Missing out on big moments is something that would gnaw at most professional sportspeople but Peter Pawlett sees things in a different light.
A groin injury curtailed any hopes of featuring in the 2014 League Cup final, with Aberdeen finally seeing off Caley Thistle on penalties. An achilles problem threatened to keep him out of his swansong last year against Celtic but he was a frustrated bystander, remaining an unused substitute as Tom Rogic sank the winner.
Pawlett left the Granite City last summer for Milton Keynes Dons and his first foray out of Scotland. He has sampled cup final day but never played, although he did scoop a winners’ medal in 2014. The Dons face Motherwell tomorrow with the chance to reach a third final in two years and Pawlett appreciates the learning experiences that come with missing out on some of the biggest days in the fixture calendar.
He said: “It’s part of the disappointment that comes with football. These opportunities don’t come around very often and you have to take them. But you have to learn from the disappointments too.
“We maybe didn’t achieve what we wanted to, getting to so many finals. We won the League Cup – I didn’t play but still got a medal, as I’d played every game up to then. I tore my groin a couple of weeks before the final and could have played, but I would have to come off after a minute or two. Jonny (Hayes) came off after a minute and in a game that went to extra-time and penalties, for two of us to go off early it would have been detrimental to the team.
“It was disappointing but the main thing was we won the cup. Adam Rooney scored the winning penalty but we won it as a team.”
The Scottish Cup is the one trophy that has eluded not just McInnes but every Dons manager dating back to Alex Smith. There have been near misses, none moreso than last year, but Pawlett reserves great credit to his former manager for getting the Dons in a place to be challenging at the forefront of Scottish football.
He said: “He changed the mentality, the belief that we could go out and win. Obviously there’s been disappointments but you have to get to cup finals. You would rather be there than at home.
“In the previous few seasons, we’d finished in the bottom six. He gave us the self-belief and we trusted each other to be successful. Rangers have now had two seasons back up and Hibs have strengthened, so being in the top four is difficult. To finish second again would be a huge achievement and they’re more than capable of doing it.
“We played really well in last year’s final and while it was disappointing on the day (to lose), it’s part of football. Aberdeen will have plenty of opportunities in the future and hopefully they can get there again on Saturday.”
Jimmy Calderwood handed Pawlett his debut as a teenager in 2009 but it was not until McInnes arrived in the 2012-13 season that the winger established himself as a regular in the side. He feels the criticism directed at his former manager for the Dons’ record against the Old Firm is unfair.
Pawlett said: “I don’t think he can be criticised for what he’s achieved. You want to be playing in cup finals and that’s what the team has been doing. This is what the supporters will want. We competed at a good level and it’s just about closing the gap now.”
Ironically, both his former and current club are known as the Dons, but the fortunes of the two clubs are of stark contrast. Aberdeen are targeting back-to-back Scottish Cup finals and a fourth consecutive runner-up spot; MK Dons are three points from safety in the League 1 relegation spots, with teams above them having games in hand.
After a year in charge, former Hearts boss Robbie Neilson left in January and Dan Micciche, their former academy chief who Dele Alli credits as having a huge influence on his early career, was appointed. But he has no regrets about leaving Pittodrie behind.
Pawlett said: “I’ve suffered a bit with injury and it’s been a bit stop-start. But everyone has been really good to me. The dressing room and the facilities are top class and it’s a really good club to be at. We needed more belief in ourselves at the start of the season and hopefully it’s not come too late.
“We’ve got five games left now to stay up. We’ll do anything possible to stay in this league. It’s a new experience for me and a learning curve in my career.”
Should the Dons make it to another Scottish Cup final, a good contingent from the Pawlett family may well be in the crowd to cheer them on. Pawlett was born in Hull but moved to Banchory aged seven and his brothers Ben and Chris still get to games when they can.
Pawlett added: “The season finishes here on May 5 so I’m sure if they get there, I’ll be watching, probably with my brothers. I still have a lot of friends there and it’d be great to see them lift the cup.”