Jubilant Caley Thistle fans returned from Hampden Park in their thousands last night after witnessing their heroes qualify in style for the first Scottish Cup final in their history.
More than 20 coach-loads of supporters made the trek south, while others went by rail or car to savour what many are calling “the greatest day in the club’s history.”
The momentous 3-2 extra-time victory over Celtic could also be a stepping stone to a Highland club qualifying for European action for the first time – if the Jags complete the job by beating Championship side Falkirk in next month’s final.
At the Caley Social Club in Greig Street, five-year-old Lochardil Primary School pupil Cole Thompson reckoned winning goal-scorer David Raven was the team’s shining light.
“Three-nil for Caley” was his prediction for the final.
Cole’s grandfather Fraser Thompson said: “We were definitely the better team. The difference was the will to win. We wanted that cup more than Celtic. (Manager) John Hughes is super, he’s done a great job.”
Fellow Caley Thistle fan Roddy McCuish from Harris said: “The amount of possession Caley had was unbelievable. They were deserved winners without a doubt.”
Rangers fan Bill Connochie – originally from Falkirk – was delighted for Caley Jags but said he would be “sitting on the fence” on the day of the final.
Over the other side of the River Ness, at Deenos Bar in Academy Street, Caley Thistle fan Wayne Ridgers said: “Caley were absolutely fantastic. Celtic fell asleep when they went down to 10-men. The sending off was the difference. Celtic played for extra time after that.”
Celtic fan Jordon McLafferty was close to tears when the final whistle blew – but was gracious in defeat.
He said: “To be fair to Inverness, they played really well. Fair play, and being from Inverness, I hope they go on to win the cup now.”
Waiting for a celebratory fish and chip supper on her way back from the game last night, Jennifer Aitchison, chairwoman of the Caley Jags Together board, said: “It’s a fantastic day. The guys have done us so proud and, hopefully, we can do even better next time and bring even more people who can buy into our dream.”
Boarding another of the Caley Thistle supporters’ coaches outside Hampden for the joyous trip back up the A9, Highland Council convener and passionate fan Jimmy Gray described it as “probably one of the best results that they’ve ever had.”
He went on: “We played some really good football. We were under the cosh for a period, but it was just the way they held together to get the result.
“This is a great day. It just shows how far Highland football has progressed. We beat the best supported side in Scotland, the best resourced side. To be in a position where you can knock them out in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup is just incredible. We’ll show Falkirk respect, but we fear no-one.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol, who grew up in Falkirk and married a Falkirk lass, followed the match on radio.
He said: “I’m delighted. It’s a great achievement for Caley and thoroughly deserved. They have to go in against Falkirk as favourites.
“This sort of success helps any team that’s not in the central belt. You cannot over-estimate the significance of something like this. It really boosts the region, the city of Inverness, it gets people talking about us. It gets us noticed. It’s very significant.”