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Neil MacFarlane eyes final medal after lucky escape

Phil Gordon

Twelve months ago, Neil MacFarlane was having to adjust his football future after being jettisoned by Gretna. It turned out to be a bizarre twist of good fortune. The Queen of the South midfield player is preparing for the biggest day of his career this Saturday, while his erstwhile colleagues at Raydale Park have just been handed their P45s.

The 30-year-old had his two-year contract terminated by Mick Wadsworth, the Gretna director of football, last May but managed to get fixed up a few weeks later with their southwest of Scotland neighbours. Dumfries has offered not just a first-team place, but sanctuary from the tide of debt that has virtually swept Gretna out of business.

MacFarlane took little pleasure in hearing that his old club were making 40 people redundant on the same day that he began the countdown to the Scottish Cup final with Rangers at Hampden Park on Saturday. “It’s very sad for them, no one wants to see that,” MacFarlane said yesterday.

“I was hampered by injuries at Gretna but I did play a part in helping the team to become Scottish first division champions last season and I had some good memories. However, I was not enjoying my football there as much as I do at Queen of the South.

“Gretna were going down a different road after they got promotion. They were bringing in a lot of players who had played in League One or Two in England and most of the players who had helped them to get promotion moved on, such as John O'Neil, David Graham and Colin McMenamin. I thought that was a mistake. I am not saying we would have kept Gretna up but when you don’t use an experienced squad, it is the wrong road to take. They let too many go.”

Ironically, MacFarlane, who has played for eight sides, missed out on a Scottish Cup winner’s medal with the club he enjoyed his most settled period with in football. The tigerish ballwinner spent four years with Heart of Midlothian, but became a casualty of Vladimir Romanov’s prolific recruitment policy in January 2006 and was squeezed out by the plethora of new signings. Rather than remain at Tynecastle and sit in the stand, he opted to switch to Aberdeen. Four months later, Hearts won the Scottish Cup final by defeating Gretna on penalties.

“I was delighted that Hearts won and I still keep in touch with a few of the lads there,” MacFarlane said. “I had six months left on my contract. Craig Levein [then manager] had brought me to the club but the managerial changes there [three in eight months] made things harder. Jimmy Calderwood wanted me at Aberdeen and then I went to Gretna after that. Hopefully, I can get the chance to win the cup this time.”

MacFarlane believes Queen of the South will be ready for Rangers despite their comparatively leisurely build-up to the biggest game in the club’s history. While Rangers were involved in the Uefa Cup final and a packed domestic itinerary, the first division club were soaking up the Spanish sun in Marbella. Their league campaign ended almost a month ago with a fourth-place finish. Walter Smith’s men will have played nine matches since Queens last played.

“We finished almost four weeks ago but we have kept ourselves ticking over with a few bounce games and this week has just been a normal training week leading up to the final but Saturday just can’t come quick enough.

“It’s the biggest game of my career. There is real potential at Queens and having 15,000 of our own fans at Hampden shows that. We were written off before the semi-final and defeated Aberdeen 4-3. St Johnstone and Partick have pushed Rangers all the way in the cup and, on our day, we can live with them in our division.

“We’re not kidding ourselves, though, Rangers are the favourites, but we have nothing to lose.”

Taken from

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