Marc McNulty was robbed of one mouth-watering Scottish Cup semi-final appearance. On Sunday, he had the look of a man unwilling to let that opportunity again pass him by.
The Dundee United forward was irrepressible at Pittodrie, tormenting a ropey Aberdeen rearguard with his intelligent movement and notching two clinically taken goals.
The comprehensive victory — just the second time the Tangerines have scored three goals against top-flight opposition this term — saw United book their date at Hampden; one which will be particularly special for McNulty.
The twice-capped Scotland striker helped Hibernian reach the semi-final stage last season, teeing up what should have been a marquee Edinburgh derby showdown at the national stadium. For a lad born-and-bred in Auld Reekie, what a prospect.
Then the world stopped turning.
The pandemic halted the tournament in its tracks but, while the leagues were halted and decided on a points-per-game basis, the Scottish Cup was postponed — meaning McNulty, a United player by that point, had to watch from afar as Hearts defeated Hibs at the end of October.
“That has been something I have been thinking about,” smiled McNulty ruefully.
“It was difficult to sit and watch that semi-final, but I know that the world has been a bit mad and these things happen.
“So it will be special for me to go to Hampden and is something I’m really looking forward to. It is something not a lot of people in their career will get to go and do, and I appreciate it even more now.
“A lot of the boys haven’t done it either — and might never do it again, so we will enjoy the day, approach the game with confidence and see what happens.”
That new-found swagger is certainly merited following their showing at Pittodrie, which was, by some distance, their most complete, fluent, aesthetically-pleasing performance of the campaign. A repeat of that, and they will have a chance against any of the three remaining sides.
“The performance was brilliant,” he beamed. “We knew what was at stake because we had been talking about it all week — and it was the perfect day.
“We defended well, everybody worked hard, we got a couple of goals and everything just went our way.
Aberdeen 0-3 Dundee United
ICYMI here's number two of the day for Marc McNulty in the @ScottishCup ⤵️
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) April 25, 2021
“Our best display of the season? I would agree with that. The gaffer is always on about defending from the front and our midfield three working hard and defending the wide areas — and the fitness coach said our stats for the boys were through the roof.
And McNulty’s rewards came in the form of his first brace in United colours.
Indeed, prior to Sunday his goal tally stood at just three; a modest return for a player of McNulty’s proven pedigree.
“A lack of chances is something Shanks [Lawrence Shankland] and I moan about every week,” he laughed. “But we got our chances on Sunday — and on another day we could maybe have scored a few more, if we were being harsh on ourselves.”
McNulty also echoed the words of Mellon, who lavished praise on the United supporters who gathered with flares, scarves and flags to give the team bus an unforgettable send off on Saturday.
It was a taste of what has been sorely missed inside stadiums up and down Scotland this season.
“That scene was unbelievable and it just goes to show what a big club this is,” lauded McNulty.
“This team is capable of finishing a lot higher and I am sure the boys will be aiming for that next season.”
“I have been fortunate enough in my career to be at some big clubs and I have seen similar things, with fans gathering and giving you a send-off — and that was right up there on Saturday.
“The fans deserve to celebrate something, so to reach Hampden and to give them some excitement is brilliant. They have backed the club; the owner [Mark Ogren] and Tony [Asghar, sporting director] have backed the club and it is good to give them something back as well.
“Now we just need to keep pushing on. We just need to put everything into the cup and we can see where it takes from us.”
And regardless of how their Scottish Cup adventure ends, McNulty is convinced that United have illustrated that they can reach new levels when — hopefully — fans are back in their seats to witness it.
He added: “This team is capable of finishing a lot higher and I am sure the boys will be aiming for that next season.”