WHEN Partick Thistle kick-off against Raith Rovers in tonight’s Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup semi-final at Firhill, Ian McCall’s men will be focused on restoring a sense of optimism around Maryhill and qualifying for their first final in the tournament since 2013. Well, for the most part.

Tam O’Ware will have bigger things on his mind. His wife, Meighan, is in the late stages of her pregnancy and could end up going into labour while her husband is in action for the Jags. The due date isn’t until next Wednesday but with the unpredictable life that tends to accompany Thistle players, it would come as no surprise to see O’Ware sprinting full-pelt off the pitch if the news comes through.

The birth of his second daughter, when she arrives, will surely mark a momentous day for the centre-half. But O’Ware insists that he remains focused on the task at hand whenever he steps onto the turf at Firhill.

“I have to put it to the back of my mind, the football just now is so important because of the situation we are in and for family life to go well, the football needs to succeed,” says a smiling O’Ware.

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“As soon as I get to training it’s at the back of my mind and when I get in afterwards I’m straight on the phone seeing if anything has happened.

“Meighan thought it was going to happen the Dundee weekend. I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s one you’d need to decide in the moment. Being a cup game it’s maybe not too bad.

“But the position we are in in the league someone’s going to be unhappy.”

“I’m probably more scared of the gaffer!” O’Ware answered when asked if he risked incurring his wife’s wrath. “But Meighan has the kitman’s number so I’m sure I will get the message if anything happens.

“If it’s the second half then there’s no rush is there!

“My other wee girl Esme is excited. She normally comes to games but at the moment she’s a bit of a bad luck charm so I’m trying to keep them all away.”

O’Ware agrees with his manager’s assessment that tonight’s semi-final has perhaps arrived at the right time for Thistle. Bottom of the league and without a win to their name in six attempts this calendar year, the match against Raith provides an opportunity to restore some optimism around Firhill – something that has been in short supply in recent weeks.

“The mood is alright. I know we are bottom but it’s a weird one,” he said. “We don’t feel we should be. The last three or four games have been a blow. We have not played as well as we should have but the goals we have conceded are frustrating.

“Three corners, a penalty that wasn’t a penalty and a mistake - it’s not as if teams are cutting us open or creating lots of chances. It’s frustrating losing in the manner we are but it’s up to us to change that and we know it needs to stop.”

Set-pieces, in particular, have been a bugbear of the Thistle support this campaign. McCall’s side look vulnerable, especially from opposition corners, but O’Ware insisted that it is an issue that the players and coaching staff are aware of and are taking steps to rectify.

“We always have a focus on them on a Friday before the game,” he says. “It’s not as if we ignore them. It’s one of those things that seems to happen when you’re down the bottom. There seems to be a recurring theme that you lose a certain way.

“The penalty against Ayr – for me, if you’re at the top of the league it’s never getting given. I still don’t understand how it’s a penalty. There’s nothing in it. I think if it was us up the other end, I don’t think we’re getting it the way things are going.

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“But it happens, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We need to get on with it. There’s only so much we can moan about. We know ourselves it’s not been good enough and the blame lies with us at the end of the day.”

The prospect of leading Thistle out on the day of a national cup final is an enticing one for O’Ware. Some supporters of top-flight clubs may sneer at the prospect of the Challenge Cup – and, let’s be honest, the current sponsor doesn’t exactly add gravitas to the tournament – but the Thistle captain is adamant that he and his team-mates aren’t turning their noses up at the opportunity to land some silverware.

“It would be a massive honour,” O’Ware says. “It’s a massive honour as it is to be the captain of the club. But I don’t want to be the captain of a club that gets relegated. Yes, the cup is a nice distraction. It’s a chance to get to a final and it’s one that we’re taking seriously but at the end of the day I don’t want to be bottom of the table.

“I didn’t come here to get relegated. I didn’t come here to be challenging to stay in the league and fight for a contract to be full-time. I came here to try and win the league and get out of it. For that to happen we need to stay in the league this year. It’s as simple as that. If we don’t, personally I’ll be embarrassed that it’s happened because we’ve underperformed massively. A club like this shouldn’t be in League One.

“It's another tournament and another chance to be successful. I've not did too well in it at Morton but different clubs look at it differently. It's a chance to play players who aren't playing in the league.

“If you look at the squad, especially tomorrow, we've got four boys cup-tied, it's four or five subs. We have no real option but to play a full-strength team and we've done that the whole way through because we aren't in a position where we can rest players or take it lightly because of our league form. It's another chance to get it right and build momentum.

“It's a bit of pride as well. It's not been good enough; nobody in that dressing accepts it has been good enough. We aren't happy about it. But it's another game to try and put things right and find something that works for us, getting a few boys' confidence up.

“I'm not going to sit here and say it has been good enough or we've been unlucky. We haven't been good enough the whole year and yes there have been glimpses, but nowhere near enough consistency. There are 11 players out on the park that can change that and the boys have to start doing it soon.”

All that stands between O’Ware and his date with destiny are John McGlynn’s high-flying Raith Rovers. The Kirkcaldy club are on track for the League One title this season, ahead of a much-fancied Falkirk side, and the 26-year-old defender knows that the Fife outfit will be no pushovers.

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“It will be a tough game,” he insisted. “It doesn’t matter who it was in League One. It’s the league below but it’s a semi-final. If it was a Championship team playing against Hearts in a semi-final you wouldn’t say it’s a walkover so for us it’s the same situation.

“Raith are flying in their league. Look how strong Falkirk’s team is and they’re four points ahead of them, so it’s going to be a tough game. Anyone who thinks it won’t be obviously doesn’t know football.”

O’Ware has not tasted success in this competition as a player, despite spending the entirety of his playing career outside of the top flight. He does remember, though, when Thistle last reached the final in 2013. Kris Doolan’s 119th-minute equaliser sparked scenes of wild jubilation from the sizeable contingent they brought to Livingston, only for Alan Archibald’s team to lose out to Queen of the South on penalties in the resulting shoot-out. He might be a Jags man now but at the time, O’Ware was wearing a wry grin when he saw the result.

“I finished second [in the league] with Morton the year they got beat in the final," he said. "I can actually remember at the time being a wee bit happy about it because they were doing so well in the league.

“But if we can win tomorrow, it brings a bit of happiness to fans who have been hurt the most by this. We need to get them back supporting us every week and hopefully we can win tomorrow and give them a day out.”

A few days later, Thistle would have their revenge over Morton. The Greenock club travelled to Firhill for a do-or-die title decider the following Wednesday, and Thistle all but sealed the league – and promotion – thanks to Jame Craigen's first-half winner.

As a youngster just taking his first steps into senior football, O’Ware featured for Morton that eventful night. Unsurprisingly, his memories of the game aren’t quite as cheery as those of a red-and-yellow persuasion.

“I think I was only 18, my first season with Morton,” he recalls. “I had only been there six months the season before and that was my first full season.

“I can just remember the game being delayed by 15 minutes because there was too many punters. Even at the time they came out and said it would be delayed. I've never played in anything like that with 10,000 or something like that. It wasn't great for me personally but I certainly learned a lot from it.”

Tam was speaking at the Glasgow showroom of Macklin Motors, who have extended their partnership with Partick Thistle for a further two years.