For David Raven, it was his cup final.
That one touch of a football, crowning off an unforgettable afternoon for those of a Caley Thistle disposition, sealed victory over Celtic and the club’s place in their first Scottish Cup final.
But that sensational high was followed by a gut-punch of a low; Raven tore his calf a week before the 2015 final against Falkirk and missed out on a chance at further heroism.
“It was a really gutting feeling,” said Raven, now an academy coach in Ellesmere and a part-time player with Warrington Town. “But I accepted it and moved on. The goal in the semi-final softened the blow. I won’t get a moment like that again.”
Raven’s goal at the end of that frantic Hampden Sunday capped an unlikely story, with heavily-fancied Celtic seeing their chances of a treble scuppered. The game was certainly not short on incident, with the furore over Josh Meekings’ handball overshadowing Caley Thistle’s achievement.
Referee Steven McLean had not seen it and neither had his assistant. Raven was close to McLean at the time of the incident and could not understand what all the fuss was about. It was only afterwards, when he saw it back on a replay, that he could not understand how it had not been given.
“I spoke to him (McLean) on a coaching course and he told me he didn’t see it. But when you look at it again, how could you have missed that?”
Moments like that started to give the feeling that Inverness were getting the rub of the green (and white). When Craig Gordon was sent off for felling Marley Watkins at the start of the second half, the door was pushed open ever so slightly. Greg Tansey slammed home the penalty and levelled the tie, after Virgil van Dijk’s opener.
Everything in their preparation for the game was spot on. Even now, Raven recalls John Hughes’ preparations as meticulous in how they could exploit Celtic’s weaknesses. Watkins’ performance against Virgil van Dijk, now the world’s most expensive defender at Liverpool, drew particular attention.
“He gave him a torrid time. Marley is big, strong and fast; John Hughes told him to elbow him, stand on his toes, do anything he could to put him off. It was old-school stuff but he made a nuisance of himself.”
Edward Ofere put Inverness in front in extra-time but Celtic were not done, as John Guidetti’s free-kick evaded Ryan Esson to restore parity again. Rather than be cowed, however, by their opponents, Caley Thistle remained on the front foot, testament to the mentality and style of play Hughes had built at the Caledonian Stadium.
Raven was never a prolific goalscorer but all his goals seemed to be memorable. His first of five goals in the Highlands came in a 3-0 derby win over Ross County, one which Raven refers to as a “two-yard screamer” as he tackles the ball over the line. His third was a curling finish against Dundee with his left foot and his fourth capped a wonderful flowing move against Hearts. But the second?
“I remember how John Hughes wanted us to play, with the full-backs high up, so I knew I could be up there as Graeme Shinnie had pushed up. It was a shot from Graeme and he’s dragged it; it’s come across goal, I’ve got a clean connection on it and it’s gone into the back of the net.
“The feeling of euphoria – it was like having an amazing drug shoot through my body. It was unbelievable. We still had to see out the last two minutes but everyone was done in. I certainly was.
“That goal does mark you out for something special and it’s a big turning point in the club’s history. I wasn’t the best player the club have ever had but that goal elevated me to a different status. I’m not in Inverness anymore but it pops up on social media and people down here are aware of it. People bring it up on YouTube and ask ‘is that you?’
“It meant a lot to a lot of people and it still does to me.”
Almost four years on, Caley Thistle have a chance to repeat the feat of 2015, with Hearts standing in their way at Hampden Park on Saturday. The odds are against them doing something similar but that has not stopped them before.
“The ones under pressure are Hearts. Inverness should be playing with a freedom and without fear. They’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and I believe they will get the result on the day.
“I’ve got special memories (from 2015) and I will be rooting for the lads, as they’ve got a massive chance to get to a cup final.”