ALTHOUGH it remains a somewhat slender possibility, the prospect of an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final is distinctly mouthwatering. More than any other combination of the four semi-finalists, the thought of Hearts meeting Hibs at Hampden Park on May 19 gets chests thumping.
Colin Cameron, a Scottish Cup winner with the Tynecastle club in 1998, believes such a contest would hold greater appeal then even an Old Firm final involving Rangers and Celtic. His reasoning is that the rarity of the occasion would create unprecedented interest. In short, it would be a bigger game.
The only time both Edinburgh clubs contested the Scottish Cup final was 116 years ago. On March 14, 1896, at Logie Green in Edinburgh, Hearts defeated Hibs 3-1 in front of 17,034 people. It has been a long wait for another final showdown, the 2006 semi-final being the closest yet.
If Hibs beat Aberdeen on Saturday, followed by a Hearts victory over Celtic 24 hours later, the dream will become reality. Cameron is keen to see the reaction and believes it would outstrip any excitement created by an Old Firm final.
“A lot has been made of the fact Rangers and Celtic play each other often and that the edge gets lost a wee bit,” he said. “Because it’s never happened before in our lifetime, I think Hearts-Hibs would generate a lot more interest than a Rangers-Celtic final would have this season. Because of the way things have happened, I think it would be a bigger game.
“It would create more interest from people not connected with the clubs. Otherwise people would just have said, ‘Oh look, it’s another Rangers-Celtic final’. Non-followers of these teams would be saying, ‘Brilliant, it’s a Hearts-Hibs final’.
“It would be nice wouldn’t it? It would be great for the city of Edinburgh and great for the fans. But both teams have difficult ties to come through. Each of them will want to do it for their own reasons. I think it would be the biggest thing the players could possibly be involved in. The only other (comparable) thing would be if the two of them were first and second in the league and they were playing in a potential title-decider.”
Cameron feels both sets of fans will be praying for a meeting of the Capital clubs but stressed that Hearts would be favourites to lift the trophy. “You’d have to ask Hibs fans but I think the majority of them would want Hearts to get into the final for the simple fact it’s never happened before in our lifetime. And it would be one up on the Glasgow teams for a change. Only the narrow-minded fans from both sides would rather it be someone else as opposed to Hibs or Hearts.
“If both teams were to get to the final, Hearts would probably be favourites having beaten Celtic on the way in the semi, added to the club’s league positions. Hearts would then have to approach the final probably the way Celtic are going to approach the semi-final. It would generate massive interest and I think it would be great for Scottish football.
“Too often it’s just been the same – Rangers and Celtic, or at least one of them in the final.”
As in 2006, the question of playing the match at Murrayfield would undoubtedly raise its head were Hearts and Hibs to reach the cup final. The Cowdenbeath manager said there should be no argument.
“I’ve never been able to play a final at Hampden. One final I played in was at Parkhead, the other was at Ibrox. Hampden is the home of Scottish football and, whoever is in the final, that’s where it should be played.”
Speaking at William Hill in Gorgie Road, Cameron was mindful of getting carried away in the shadows of Tynecastle. He is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that the tasks facing both Edinburgh clubs this weekend are what make the chances of a Hearts-Hibs final slim. In particular, beating the newly-crowned SPL champions will take a gargantuan effort.
“Hearts won’t look any further than Celtic. They can’t afford to. Celtic have just won the league and they’ll be wanting to win the cup as well. Hearts will be hoping Celtic have been celebrating a wee bit too much but, knowing Neil (Lennon), he’ll have them totally focused because he’s a winner.
“Hearts are going to have to play better than they have done this season if they’re going to get to the final. If every single Hearts player plays to their ability, and then gives another ten per cent on top of that, then they’re capable of winning.
“Because Celtic lost a final to Kilmarnock recently, they know they have to play to their ability or they could be on the end of another defeat at Hampden.
“If there was going to be any complacency, I think that will be taken away by the fact they’ve lost against Kilmarnock.”
Hibs have, on paper at least, a marginally more straightforward assignment against Aberdeen. They eliminated Cameron’s Cowdenbeath earlier in the campaign and the manager admitted the 3-2 defeat at Central Park in the fourth round still rankles.
“That was our opportunity,” he said.
“We played really well on the day but they probably just had that wee bit extra up top. That bit of SPL quality as opposed to our lads. We’ve got very good players in our team and we pushed them to the limit. We just fell that wee bit short.
“Hibs might see the cup as a springboard for them to remain in the league. I think this is a bonus for them. At the end of the day, I’m sure if you asked Pat (Fenlon) what he would prefer, he was rather stay in the league than get to the cup final.
“Financially, it will cost them a lot more if they got relegated than they would gain from winning the Scottish Cup.”