Winger Niall McGinn thought his dream of Scottish Cup glory with Aberdeen had gone after the agonising final loss to Celtic last season.
That 2-1 defeat to the Hoops was his last game for the Dons having rejected a new contract before moving to South Korean side FC Gwangju.
However, football often has a way of throwing up unexpected curve-balls and McGinn’s’ January transfer window return pitched one.
McGinn’s return on a deal until 2021 has offered a second crack at the national trophy with the Reds and he is determined to capitalise by lifting the trophy in May.
Aberdeen’s capture of McGinn ahead of interest from Hearts and Hibs was a masterstroke as the Northern Ireland cap has been pivotal in three straight wins that elevated the Dons six points clear of Rangers, and only eight behind leaders Celtic.
That has re-ignited talk of a potential title challenge.
However, McGinn reckons the main chance of silverware is the Scottish Cup – which continues with a fifth round tie against Dundee United at Pittodrie on Saturday.
He said: “Losing the final does make you more hungry for success and hopefully we can go one step further this time. Having experienced how sad it was on the day to lose the final I want to walk up those steps (at Hampden) and get a winner’s medal.
“We played well in the Scottish Cup final last season and went ahead early, which was good, but unfortunately conceded not long after that.
“The Scottish Cup final was a big day for the players and everyone at the club who was involved and we want to experience that again – but go that one step further.”
This weekend attention will focus solely on the New Firm cup clash with Championship Dundee United.
However, league results at the weekend transpired to inject fresh life into the Premiership – with a possible title challenge from the Reds now mooted as a possibility.
Aberdeen are on exactly the same number of points as they were at this stage last season – 52 points after 26 games.
The stark difference is the reduced gap to the top.
Last season, while the Reds were on 52 two points, Celtic were on 76, a huge 24-point gulf. After 26 games this term, the Hoops, beaten twice, have a return of 60 points and lead the Dons by only eight.
McGinn, just like boss McInnes after the 3-0 defeat of Hamilton at the weekend, downplayed any notion of a title tilt.
He said: “It is a long way to go and we will just concentrate on ourselves.
“If we can claw back the gap so be it, but we know it is going to be very hard as I don’t think Celtic are going to lose too many games this season.
“Our priority is probably getting second and getting to the Scottish cup final and going that one step further.
“It was an important week for the club as we set out to get nine points from the three games and got that.
“We are on 52 points, which is great. We will keep working hard behind the scenes, which we have done and concentrate on getting wins.
“Celtic and Rangers may not lose many, but it is one of those that if we keep chipping away and picking up points it will benefit us in the long run.”
Having exited Pittodrie after the Scottish Cup final, McGinn spent four frustrating months in South Korea
Following Gwangju’s relegation, the 30-year-old’s contract was terminated early by mutual consent.
McInnes moved quickly to secure the winger’s return.
Having undergone a hernia procedure in early December, McGinn stepped up his rehabilitation during the warm weather training camp in Dubai in the winter break.
He made his debut as a second half substitute in the 4-1 Scottish Cup defeat of St Mirren and hasn’t looked back. McGinn netted a superb goal in the 3-1 defeat of Kilmarnock and followed that up with a goal against Hamilton. He has also pitched in with two assists.
He said: “I feel great as that game against Hamilton was my first 90 minutes in a long time.
“I was just delighted to get 90 minutes under my belt and I have felt really good this last week fitness-wise.
“It has probably worked out better than I would have thought coming back and getting the goals and a few assists as well.
“I had a small operation which proved good for me as I have come back looking sharp and am enjoying football again.
“I have a smile on my face.
“South Korea was a good experience for me and I will use that to my advantage.”
McGinn produced a man of the match performance to see off Hamilton.
He said: “The first half was a bit scrappy, but we knew if we got the first goal we would see the game out.
“It has been a great week for the club with three very important wins after losing the Rangers game.
“We will work hard to ensure we are ready for Dundee United.”