Football: McCann awaits chance to fulfil boyhood dream

Scottish Cup final: Winning goal against Celtic on Saturday would complete ambitions of Rangers winger
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The Independent Online
WHEN NEIL McCANN was growing up in Greenock he had a dream - three, in fact. Now aged 24, McCann spent his formative years kicking a ball round the local parks receiving acclaim from imaginary fans after scoring the winner in a Scottish Cup final.

Being greedy, he wanted to play for his country too, but it was the image of being the man who won the Cup that burned most strongly in his mind.

Now, after a remarkable 12 months, McCann has only one of his ambitions still to achieve. The former Dundee player is aiming for back-to-back Scottish Cup wins after helping Hearts to their unexpected 2-1 victory over Rangers last year.

Little did he know then that he would be playing a leading role for the Glasgow club this time, after his pounds 2m move from Tynecastle in December. Add that to his international debut, against Lithuania last September, and McCann is two-thirds of the way to achieving his boyhood ambitions.

For their part, Celtic, wary of what happened the last time the Old Firm met, will be anxious to stop the quick-footed left-winger from completing the full set.

McCann scored twice when Rangers recorded a 3-0 victory in the ill-fated contest at Parkhead earlier this month which won them the Premier League title. On a brutal Glasgow evening, his excellence was lost in the madness which surrounded the occasion.

But, as the Cup final returns to Hampden Park on Saturday and Rangers seek a domestic treble, the man who cost coach Dick Advocaat pounds 2m in December last year wants goals that will be remembered.

"I always dreamed of scoring the winner in a Cup final and it would be very special to achieve it," McCann said. "I have managed to play in a Cup final and also win a cap for my country, so I am hungry to complete the third part.

"The pressure is starting to build up because it is a such a big occasion, but in terms of preparation it is not much different from last year with Hearts. And I find it quite easy to switch off because once I get home the children are so restless I don't have time to think about anything else but looking after them."

After helping his side to the league title within five months of arriving at Ibrox, McCann is already coming to terms with the incessant desire for success at the club. As a native Scot and a Catholic playing for the "other" club, he is well able to assess what makes an Old Firm encounter so special.

"I know what it all means and I have always known," said McCann, the scorer of eight goals in 19 appearances for the club.

"It is a massive game and so important to the supporters of both sides. Sometimes it spills over and we can all do without the scenes which accompanied the last match between us because it is not good for Scottish football as a whole.

"It was actually a great game - certainly for Rangers - but it was all overshadowed by everything else that went on. This time we want a game that can be remembered.

"Celtic are a good side. Henrik Larsson and Lubomir Moravcik are very dangerous up front and Alan Stubbs' distribution from the back will cause problems if we don't close him down. Craig Burley is going to be missed because he is such an important player for them and we will be looking to take advantage."

McCann has vivid memories of last year's victory and does not share Alex Ferguson's experience that the best part of any victory is the last five minutes before the referee blows the final whistle.

"I wouldn't say that," he laughed. "We were one goal up and hanging on for what seemed like hours. The referee blowing the whistle was the best bit. I remember running round Celtic Park with the cup and feeling so elated and taking the trophy back to Edinburgh was just unbelievable."

Unbelievable is a word that can aptly describe McCann's last 12 months - and there may be more to come.