Dan MacKay: Hampden masterclass for Inverness v Falkirk at Hampden gives Hibs food for thought

On-loan Hibs winger proves himself on biggest of stages with man-of-the-match performance, giving Lee Johnson food for thought
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Dan MacKay was at Hampden as a 15-year-old youth team player in 2015 when Inverness Caledonian Thistle, his home-town club, famously won the Scottish Cup by beating Falkirk in the final. Seven years on, he’ll be going back as a player to face Celtic or Rangers after a man-of-the-match display in an emphatic 3-0 semi-final victory at the national stadium. It was against Falkirk again and his family were there again, but this time MacKay was the shining star.

The 22-year-old left winger on loan from Hibs had only played at the national stadium once before – for Elgin City against Queen’s Park In League Two when he was on loan a few years ago. But Hibs will have taken note about the way he rose to the occasion on the big stage.

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MacKay delivered an assist for Billy McKay’s second goal and then headed home the third himself before collecting the BBC man-of-the-match award in what was the biggest game of his career so far. “It’s massive for the club,” he said. “They’ve had a hard time of late in the Championship. It’s been five seasons now, so we’ve given the fans a bit of hope and a bit of hope for the play-offs, so hopefully it will be a good end to the season.”

Dan MacKay celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0 Inverness in the Scottish Cup semi-final against FalkirkDan MacKay celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0 Inverness in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk
Dan MacKay celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0 Inverness in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk

Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie described MacKay as “a real shining light for Inverness”. He said: “He was brilliant. Attacking at pace, getting himself into good areas. With his header, he got himself in front of the full-back and in behind the centre-half. His ball for the goal – Billy will get in those areas and it’s about getting the ball to him. When you deliver a ball like that, he’s not going to miss those.”

It’s been a very good season for MacKay, who had hoped last summer to stay at Hibs and fight for his place only to be told by Lee Johnson to go out on loan. The Hibs boss will surely have been impressed by MacKay’s performance at the national stadium.

With Elie Youan’s loan ending in the summer and Aiden McGeady’s deal also expiring, Johnson could well be looking for a new left winger next season and, if his performance at Hampden is anything to go, MacKay surely merits a chance. Under contract at Easter Road until 2025, he revealed earlier this week that he is anticipating talks with Johnson this summer and intends to return to Easter Road to fight for his place. He has never played more games or had more assists than he has this season at Inverness and feels he has benefitted from working under Billy Dodds.

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“I’ve learned a mix of things,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News earlier this week. “He’ll say what a forward would ideally want from his winger and what I should be doing to help the team. It’s been good in that sense. The gaffer gives us almost a free range in the final third and that helps. We have experienced boys as well, like Billy McKay. He tells you what he wants.”

Dan MacKay celebrates his goal at HampdenDan MacKay celebrates his goal at Hampden
Dan MacKay celebrates his goal at Hampden

Billy McKay did exactly that for the second Inverness goal at Hampden, Dan cutting in and delivering an early cross, right-footed, to the back post for the striker to hook home a volley for his 100th goal for the club. Dan feels his decision-making in the final third has improved this season, as well as his defensive work. “I’ve been working on that and it helps me in an attacking sense as well by being in the right position and being able to break on teams,” he said. “My end product going forward has improved a lot as well because I’ve been in those situations a lot more often.

“There are always things you can improve. Scoring more goals and giving myself more opportunities to score more goals, by getting in when the other winger is crossing it would be one. When we have the ball around the box, tidying up and making sure the final pass is correct and played at the right weight. I’m 22 so there are things to work on but hopefully I’ll improve as the years go on.”

MacKay had a knee injury which kept him out for five weeks or so in October but has been an important part of the success Inverness have enjoyed. A place in the Premiership play-offs is their next target before the cup final itself on June 6.

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No-one could have predicted at the start of the season that Inverness would reach the Scottish Cup final, and they were beaten 2-0 at home to Queen’s Park in the fourth round in January – only to be reinstated a few days later because on-loan Hearts striker Euan Henderson played for the Spiders when ineligible. But Mackay feels it is deserved nonetheless.

Dan MacKay shows strength to hold off Falkirk defender Max KucheriavyiDan MacKay shows strength to hold off Falkirk defender Max Kucheriavyi
Dan MacKay shows strength to hold off Falkirk defender Max Kucheriavyi

“At the start of the season you’re hoping for a good cup run,” added MacKay, whose younger brother Callum is also at Inverness full-time. “We got off to a good start in the League Cup before being knocked out by Motherwell. We luckily got through in the Scottish Cup because of Queen’s Park’s error, but we have taken advantage of it and beaten two good Premiership teams on our way there so it has been on merit. We’ve managed to put ourselves in a good position to be in the play-offs. It could be a good end to the season for us if all things go well.

“What’s made the difference? Probably just having all our players back for the first time this season. The gaffer has had 20 boys to pick from. At other times he’s been relying on 13 or 14. Winning games also breeds confidence and that’s what has been happening at an important time of the season.”

MacKay himself is full of confidence too and Hibs could benefit from that next season.