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Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner wants to end rollercoaster season on a high

Inverness chief wants glory for the players against Celtic at Hampden to cap a season of surprises.

Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner.
Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner.

Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner insists team effort off the park has helped the Championship club prepare for the Scottish Cup final.

Inverness are ready to tackle Ange Postecoglou’s champions and League Cup winners, who are on the hunt for a world-record eighth domestic treble.

Following an injury-ravaged season, the Highlanders missed out on promotion after finishing sixth in the Championship after a last-day defeat by Ayr United on May 5, their last competitive fixture.

However, for the 2015 winners to have the chance to lift the trophy against all the odds is quite the ending to a dramatic run to Hampden.

They were knocked out of the cup by Queen’s Park in January, but the Spiders were found to have fielded an ineligible player, leading to ICT being reinstated.

ICT resources stretched to the limit

Wins over Premiership duo Livingston and Kilmarnock were followed by a 3-0 semi-final victory over Falkirk.

Gardiner said:  “It has been a rollercoaster season. I thought I had been around the block, but nothing compares to this.

“We were out of the Scottish Cup for three days, now I’m getting ready to try on my cup final suit.

“Everyone involved in the club has done brilliantly. The staff have been under a lot of stress and strain the last few weeks. We’ve had sickness bugs and all sorts of things and we don’t have a huge resource.

“We had a meeting with Celtic and the SFA on Thursday and there was a cast of around 35 people around the table.

“Our secretary, Fiona McWilliams, said when speaking about one single matter, she had correspondence from three separate people from Celtic.

“Listen, it’s a brilliant problem to have. Fiona, and I and (finance manager) Evelyn (Brown) are all doing 10 different things at once, while Celtic had three people doing one job. That’s the difference.

“But on Saturday, it will be down to 11 men against 11 men.”

Will Caley Thistle pull off another stunning Scottish Cup win against Celtic at Hampden? Image: SNS

Sunshine adds to huge sense of pride

And former Tottenham Hotspur commercial chief and ex-CEO at Dundee and Hearts Gardiner beamed with pride at seeing the ICT crest placed on to the frontage of Scotland’s national stadium as the clock ticks towards show-time.

He said: “Seeing Hampden’s final preparations on Thursday, with the huge Caley Thistle badge going on the front of the stadium next to the Celtic badge makes you feel just how huge an occasion this is.

“I have been lucky enough in my career to be at cup finals all over the world, including the World Cup, Champions League finals, and FA Cup and League Cup finals, but when it’s your club, on this stage, it’s special.

“Strangely, with the sun being out, it also makes it seem like a bigger occasion. You remember in your youth, all these cup finals seemed to be played on sunny days. Rose-tinted memories, perhaps, but it creates waves of goosebumps.”

Glory matters more than a windfall

Should Inverness win the cup, European group stage qualification, with sums of around £3.5million expected adding to a reported £1million for getting this far, could transform the club which reported an £835,000 loss in its latest accounts in February.

On the eve of the final, however, Gardiner said the chance for ICT to win the trophy again is uppermost in his thoughts.

He said: “I’m not talking about potential income. What matters now is the dream of potentially winning the Scottish Cup.

“It’s now about glory and these Caley Thistle players becoming immortal in the history of this club and in the history of Scottish football.

“Stupid numbers have been bandied about with regards to (how much money will be made) simply reaching the cup final.

“I’m not getting goosebumps about finances. The goosebumps are about ‘will it be our boys running around with the Scottish Cup in the sunshine at Hampden?’

“The SFA were talking about what champagne will be going into the winning dressing room, that shows how close we are.

“Out of 42 professional and many other clubs such as Darvel, who beat Aberdeen,, there are only two left – and Caley Thistle are one of them.”

Final flourish follows play-off pain

Manager Billy Dodds, his coaching staff, as well as 13 senior players, are out of contract after the final.

Dodds said this week talks are “ongoing”, while Gardiner refused to discuss the matter, although he admitted reaching the final changed the way the season will be viewed overall, having missed out of the promotion play-offs on the last day of the league season.

He added: “It’s a huge achievement (reaching the final). After being reinstated with a huge slice of luck, we beat the team fourth in the Premiership away from home (Livingston), then came from a goal behind to beat Kilmarnock.

Inverness head coach Billy Dodds’ future remains unclear after the final. Image: SNS

“The pressure on the boys and Billy in the semi-final was enormous. If we’d lost that game, then we subsequently didn’t make the play-offs, the season would have been seen entirely differently.

“We would not have 6,000 Caley Thistle fans heading to Glasgow this Saturday with flags and scarves flying. It would have been a completely different summer. But we’re here on merit and we’ve got a chance.”