ANDY DRIVER believes Hearts’ players are showing their strength of character this season having overcome wage problems and other disruptions to stand on the brink of a cup final place and European qualification, writes BARRY ANDERSON.
Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic is being billed as the biggest game of the Edinburgh club’s campaign. However, their stirring resolve since the turn of the year means they can arrive at Hampden Park with a fair degree of confidence.
Driver feels the squad’s determination should be commended following wage delays and the departure of key players like Eggert Jonsson, Ryan Stevenson and, most recently, Marian Kello.
“It would be a massive achievement (to reach the final) given everything that has gone on here. Anything we get would be a massive positive. I think it shows the character of the boys that we are in this situation,” he said.
“This cup run hasn’t been easy, we’ve already been in two replays to get to this stage. We’ve had to show character to get through them. So we’re kind of going into this game with nothing to lose. We’ve had a hard season and we have everything to gain. So we have to try and use everything that has happened this year to our advantage.”
Driver played in League Cup semi-final defeats with Hearts in 2008 and 2010, losing to Rangers and St Mirren respectively, and is eager not to suffer the same fate against Celtic.
“We’re going in as underdogs but we have to be positive, work hard, get the rub of the green and get to the final,” he continued. “I remember a League Cup semi-final against Rangers when we didn’t perform. We also lost to St Mirren at Fir Park. That taught me that we can’t get so close and let ourselves down again.
“There’s devastation because you know that a final can create memories that stay with you for the rest of your life. We have to learn from when we’ve not quite done it and under-achieved. It’s harder to go in as favourites I think and as underdogs hopefully the manager will sort us out and we can get a result. With the results we’ve had against Celtic we know it’s possible.”
Celtic lost the Scottish Communities League Cup final to Kilmarnock at Hampden only last month. Driver expects they will be desperate to make amends. “If anything, the Kilmarnock result makes it harder for us. They won’t want to let history repeat itself and anything other than winning won’t do. We have to concentrate on ourselves and not Celtic. If we play to our best we have a chance.”
Hearts’ team virtually picks itself for Sunday and Driver is likely to start on the left side of a four-man midfield. After two years of minimal action due to injuries, he is relieved to be fit again and back playing regularly. “The only time I found it hard was when I wasn’t performing the way I should do. That was just due to the fact I wasn’t fit and it got me down but slowly but surely I am getting that back every game I play.”