DANNY GRAINGER has fond memories of watching Cup Finals with his father by his side – now he can’t wait for his own son to see him play in one.
The Hearts defender and his wife Heather welcomed little Oliver into the world last September and the eight-month-old youngster will be at Hampden on Saturday to see his dad line up against Hibs in the William Hill Scottish Cup final.
Grainger grew up as a Manchester United supporter and remembers his dad taking him along to cup clashes in front of huge crowds at Wembley or sitting in front of the television watching them together as a boy.
Those special times have made him even more determined to bring home a winner’s medal from Hampden this weekend to give Oliver something that he can look back on in years to come. Grainger said: “To be able to experience something like this and hopefully have the memories of a cup final win to talk about to him when he grows up would be amazing.
“To be able to show him photographs and articles and show him that he was at the game will be something really special for me, particularly if we win.
“I grew up in England and I always remember watching the FA Cup finals with my dad so to be involved in something as big as that in Scotland is just something that you dream of as a kid.
“I always remember one game in particular, in 1996, when Manchester United were playing Liverpool and Eric Cantona scored five minutes from time to win the game.
“The cup final was an occasion that I always looked forward to, it was something special that me and my dad did together and hopefully I can do the same one day with Oliver.”
Grainger’s Scottish Cup heartache in previous years has been well-documented, the left-back having missed Gretna’s final against Hearts back in 2006 after a loan spell at Brechin City left him cup-tied for the May showpiece, and he left Dundee United just before they lifted the trophy in 2010. Having fallen at the final hurdle on two other occasions, he is hoping that it is a case of third time lucky this year.
He admitted: “It would be my greatest achievement and I will probably never top it, to be honest. For it to be a derby, too, just makes it unbelievable, words can’t really describe it.
“This will rank up there as one of the biggest days of my career and I think that will be the case with most of the players in the squad.
“It’s hard for me to look back at the times that I have missed cup finals so now I am really just looking forward to this one. Hopefully, I can get another good training session in and the manager selects me for the game on Saturday.”
Around 50 of Grainger’s friends and family will be making their way to Glasgow on Saturday and he admits that he is excited at the prospect of playing in front of a packed Hampden.
The 52,063 capacity stadium is set to be packed to the rafters for the biggest Edinburgh derby of all time and the atmosphere on the day will be electric.
However, Grainger knows that the key to victory could be down to the players keeping their heads while all around them lose theirs’. With so much at stake, there is a danger that tempers could boil over out on the park and Grainger cautioned: “The main thing is to keep our heads in the game and stick to what we know. We need to focus on how we play and what our strengths are, make sure that we don’t let the occasion get to us.
“Obviously, it is a massive game for both sides and the atmosphere is going to be electric but you’ve got to block that kind of thing out and just make sure you get the right result.
“The first derby that I played in was at Tynecastle and the atmosphere was just brilliant and that was just in front of 15-16,000.
“To play in front of 52,000, the stadium will be bouncing on Saturday. I have spoken to a lot of my friends who are coming up from England and even they can’t wait for the game.
“I’ve got about 50 friends and family who are coming up to the game, they’re mostly travelling up on Saturday morning, so it will be an unbelievable occasion. Having all the hype and the press around has really added to the atmosphere this week. We were all disappointed with the Celtic result last weekend but we’ve got to put that behind us now and get on with it.
“It’s a special week for everyone involved with the club but we know that we have got a lot of hard work still to do. It’s a case of getting our heads down and getting on with the job.”
Both managers have said that the most difficult job they will face this weekend is telling players that they have missed out on a place in the squad for Hampden.
Grainger is almost certain to be on the team-sheet, having become an integral part of Paulo Sergio’s squad, but admitted that Saturday will prove to be a heart-breaking occasion for a number of players, no matter the outcome.
With the number of substitutes reduced in the Scottish Cup from seven to five, there will be disappointed faces on both sides and Grainger reckons that it might be even more difficult to sit and watch the game than to be out on the pitch playing in it.
He said: “It would be really hard to have to watch everyone else go out on to the pitch and play when you think that you should be involved. Obviously, the manager can only select five substitutes after his starting XI so there will be a few people disappointed.
“A lot of it will be down to what goes on on the training pitch but I am sure that the manager will already know who he is going to play.
“Nothing is ever certain until you’re out on that pitch so you’ve got to push yourself as much as possible and try to impress the manager so that you get into the squad.”
Grainger is looking forward to a well-earned break when the excitement of the cup final is over as well as giving himself the chance to do some rehab on his groin in time for the European qualifiers and next SPL campaign.
He added: “I have a bit of rehab to do on my groin, get everything tidied up so there will be plenty to do. Summers never seem to last as long as you want them to but I am sure we’ll all be looking forward to getting going again in time for the start of next season.”