Matt Doherty sent his team-mates wild as he knocked home a last-minute winner in the final of the Paul McGrath Cup against Dublin rivals Cherry Orchard.
But the ecstasy turned to agony as his ‘goal’ was chalked off and a red card flashed in his face, leaving him to watch helplessly as his side lost in a penalty shoot-out.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a moment that remains vivid in the young defender’s memory, the only cup final he’s ever played in throughout his fledgling career.
Now, of course, Doherty is hoping for a much happier ending when he lines up in the green and white of Hibs to face Capital rivals Hearts in the historic all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final, Hampden feeling like a million miles away from that day on the outskirts of the Irish capital.
The 20-year-old, who has overcome a knock sustained in the final SPL game of the season at Inverness last Saturday, recalled: “It was the last minute of the final, Belvedere Boys’ Club Under-16s against Cherry Orchard, and the game was level. I wasn’t getting to the ball, it was going beyond me so I punched it into the net. I don’t know how the linesman didn’t see it but he ran back to the halfway line and the goal was given.
“It would have been the winner, but the linesman was on the side where all their parents were standing and they were screaming their heads off. Then the flag went up, there was a discussion with the referee, the goal was disallowed and I was shown a straight red.
“I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was handball but surely it should only have been a yellow card. What did for me, I think, was that the referee had sent off one of their players who had gone mad at him when the goal was awarded and perhaps when he realised such a big mistake had been made and their guy was telling the truth he felt he should send me off to even things up.
“The game then went to extra-time and penalties – I’d have been taking one of them – and we lost so it was my fault, I guess.”
There were only 100 or so watching on that day in 2009, a far cry from the white-hot cauldron which will be Hampden on Saturday as 50,000 Hibs and Hearts fans cram into the national stadium for the Capital derby to end all derbies, a scenario the Irish youngster admits he could never have envisaged when he arrived on loan from Wolves for the second half of the season.
He said: “I knew Hibs were still in the Cup because my first game was against Kilmarnock when Eoin Doyle scored the winner. But I never dreamt for one minute it would all end up at Hampden and the most talked about Scottish Cup final of all time. The priority then, and for a good while thereafter, was on making sure Hibs remained in the SPL.”
Pat Fenlon’s side, of course, finally achieved that goal in the penultimate match, crushing basement side Dunfermline 4-0 so condemning the Pars to First Division football next season and allowing themselves to start looking forward to the showdown with Hearts, the Hibs boss having banned all talk of a match which had become virtually the sole topic of conversation between the rival supporters.
Doherty played his part in that victory, nodding home the opening goal after just five minutes to soothe the fans’ frayed nerves before Doyle and Garry O’Connor put Hibs three up in the first quarter of an hour with Paul Hanlon adding, in controversial fashion, a fourth goal for good measure.
He said: “We knew we needed to get off to a good start so it was great to be the one to score in such an important match. It set the tone for the rest of the game and when we were 3-0 up we could relax a bit.
“The fans created a great atmosphere on but now Hampden is going to be something else, 50,000 fans with half of them hating you and the other half loving you.
“I’m really looking forward to it, the history of it all.
“People have been asking me if I have a sense of it all and I’ve been saying ‘Yes,’ but they tell me, ‘No, you don’t.’ I know what it means a lot to me as a player but I suppose it means even more to the fans as they are the ones who have supported the club down through the years. I know it means so much to them and what they are hoping for from the game but I am sure the full extent of it all will hit me on the day.”
Fenlon’s players were due back in Edinburgh later today [Wednesday] having spent the last four days at a hotel on the coast just north of Dublin to get away from all they hype which has been building incessantly in the Capital, the Hibs boss making good use of his Irish contacts to secure training facilities at Tolka Rovers where he first started playing football himself.
Hibs’ base is close to Doherty’s family home but, he revealed, the focus has been entirely on meticulous planning for Saturday. He said: “The hotel is literally two minutes from where I am from but it’s not a holiday visit.
“It’s been a chance to get the boys all together, getting away from it all.”
If he saw little or nothing of his family over the past few days, Doherty knows they will be there in force on Saturday having managed to get his hands on enough tickets for them. Revealing it’s not only the fans but the players who have had to beg, steal and borrow to keep everyone happy, Doherty said: “The question everyone has been asking is ‘Do you have any spare tickets?’ Leigh Griffiths has been a real pest, he seems to have been at everyone trying to get more.
“I’ve got five sisters and a brother and bar one of my sisters who is studying for a very important exam at Uni, they’ll be coming over along with my Mum and Dad. Hopefully it will be a day for all of us to remember.”