In a normal world Jonny Hayes would have played against Aberdeen in the colours of Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April.
However, a world gripped by a pandemic is far from normal.
The Covid-19 crisis and the four-month shutdown of Scottish football turned the situation on its head for Hayes.
Now Hayes is set to go up against his former club despite helping Celtic set up the semi-final with Aberdeen.
The winger’s final appearance the Hoops was in the 1-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final defeat of St Johnstone on March 1.
McInnes admits when he signed Hayes in the summer he feared the 33-year-old would be cup-tied for the semi.
However, in July the SFA confirmed players who had previously played for other teams in the 2019-20 tournament would not be cup-tied.
With McInnes rating the returning Hayes as “inspirational” that confirmation came as a major boost. Now Hayes will play a pivotal role at Hampden on Sunday in the Dons bid to lift the trophy for the first time since 1990.
Asked if it was an unexpected bonus to have Hayes available for the semi, McInnes said: “Yes it was. I wasn’t convinced that was ever going to be the case but he shouldn’t be denied that chance.
“We had the conversation with Jonny in the summer that playing in the semi-final was so important for him. That was one of the first things he mentioned.
“Trying to be part of a successful Aberdeen team was important to Jonny as well. As it is for us all.”
Hayes was an injury doubt for the 3-3 draw with Celtic at the weekend and possibly the semi-final after pulling up with a groin problem in the 4-2 defeat of Hamilton.
McInnes was delighted when he was given the all clear.
He said: “It was brilliant getting the news on Sunday morning that Jonny had no adverse reaction to Saturday’s training and would be able to play.
“Defensively and with his work in his own half Jonny is very good. But he still carries that fight for us, that torch for us going forward. He is a real inspirational player for us.
“It is great that he is available for us both after his injury last week and being able to perform in the semi-final.”
Hayes spent five seasons at Pittodrie before leaving for Celtic in a £1.3m deal in summer 2017.
In his three seasons at Parkhead the Republic of Ireland winger won three league titles, two League Cups and a Scottish Cup.
Having exited Celtic in the summer such was his desire to have another crack at trophy glory with the Dons Hayes opted to defer payment of his wages for a year.
Now a veteran at 33 years old, McInnes insists Hayes returned to Pittodrie with his lightning fast pace undiminished.
He also believes Hayes is a more rounded player having played at the top level with Celtic where demands for success are so high.
He said: “ I think Jonny would say himself he maybe wasn’t as focused in the early part of his career.
“We got a hold of him here and his consistency and fitness were really what got him his move to Celtic. He was a key player for a number of years.
“The experience of having to be that type of person to be able to play for Celtic means he has probably matured a wee bit more. We get the stats and he is still as quick as he was.”
Hayes has previously won a trophy with Aberdeen but that was bitter sweet.
He started in the 2014 League Cup final win against Inverness Caley Thistle, but was forced off after a few minutes, having suffered a broken collar bone in a fall.
It was particularly heart-wrenching for the Irishman, who had done so much to navigate Aberdeen’s route to the final.
Hayes had netted twice in the 4-0 defeat of St Johnstone at Tynecastle in the semi-final. Despite his injury, he didn’t go to hospital immediately.
Instead, Hayes took some painkillers and remained at Parkhead to cheer on his team-mates to trophy glory.
Now well into his thirties, McInnes has seen a steely determination in Hayes to make his second spell at Aberdeen count with silverware.
He said: “Jonny is probably more rounded and maybe appreciates what he has got a bit more. He is getting into the last few years of his career and that realism can spur players on.
“He wants to be as professional as he can be to make the most of what he has got.”