Hearts defender walking on air after securing dream date with city rivals
GROANS intertwined with cheers at the end of last month’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle. Hearts fans wanted a fourth encounter with Hibs this season having won the previous three but seemed destined to be thwarted by the SPL split. Those groans became frenzied yelps at around 2.40pm on Sunday afternoon.
One final meeting between the Capital clubs is now in the offing, a colossal William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on May 19.
Danny Grainger, the Hearts full-back, has been praying for such a scenario all along, even if few others foresaw it transpiring. “Personally, I wanted Hibs. I love the thought of the big games,” he told the Evening News.
“To have a full house at Hampden for Hearts against Hibs is just going to be unbelievable. I know the Old Firm game is an unbelievable fixture for a final but I think this one could top it.
“This doesn’t happen very often and the atmosphere at an all-Edinburgh final is going to be deafening.
“I don’t think it will sink in properly for another few days. It’s massive for the team and for the club.
“The boys are absolutely delighted and the antics in the dressing-room after the match were superb.
“I won the First Division with Gretna and that was the best day of my career. The celebrations were unbelievable. Sunday matched that.
“I’ve seen team-mates win a cup final and I just want to have that feeling now.
“We have a massive chance to go and do that next month and I can’t wait. It would be an unbelievable season to win the cup and finish as high in the league as possible.”
The euphoria experienced by the Hearts players on Sunday was encapsulated by the scenes following Craig Beattie’s 90th-minute penalty winner.
Celebrations, though, had to be curtailed for some. “A few of us saw Beats going off the pitch but nine of us were on a booking and we were a bit worried about getting yellow carded for leaving the field,” laughed Grainger.
“That would be a horrible way to be ruled out of the final.
“Plus the boys were dead on their feet because we’d worked so hard.
“Our gameplan was to contain Celtic in the first half and we did that. Then, in the second half, we showed our qualities and got the ball down and played.”
Referee Euan Norris endured severe criticism from Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, and his assistant Alan Thompson after awarding Hearts their late penalty. Initially, it seemed to be Joe Ledley who was penalised for handball. Suggestions were later made that Victor Wanyama was identified by Norris as the guilty party.
“I didn’t see much, to be honest,” said Grainger.
“I just saw Marius (Zaliukas) try to pull the trigger and it hit the boy’s hand.
“I think massive credit has to go to the referee for showing a lot of character and giving the penalty.
“A lot of referees might have turned a blind eye to it with it coming in the 90th minute of a semi-final and Celtic possibly being put out.
“If it had been at our end we’d probably have been very disappointed if it had been given. Overall, I say fair play to the referee for giving it.”
There was a deep sense of achievement amongst the Hearts players at full-time, increased by the strength of character they have shown throughout this campaign.
Grainger left St Johnstone on freedom of contract last summer and headed to Edinburgh to further his career.
Nine months later, he is on the verge of a unique Scottish Cup final with a strong Capital flavour.
“When I was at St Johnstone we reached two semi-finals in two seasons. I couldn’t complain at that but I wanted to come to Hearts to be at a bigger club, to progress myself and try to win things. I think I’ve justified that now by getting to a cup final with Hearts. Hopefully, we can win.”
After the difficulties of the past few months, few would begrudge Grainger and his colleagues a silver-laden end to the campaign. Hibs might, but they will also be aware of the psychological advantage Hearts will carry with them to Hampden next month.
Grainger paid tribute to the team-mates he believes have stood up to be counted whenever required.
“It shows how close we are after the season we’ve had. We’ve put all the troubles off the pitch behind us and we’ve shown we are a real team and that we’re together.
“I was delighted for Rudi (Skacel) getting his goal on Sunday.
“He deserves it because he’s a legend here. I know Beats was disappointed not starting but he’s come on and scored the winner for us with a 90th-minute penalty.
“Credit is due to both those guys, but credit should also go to guys like Jamie MacDonald, Webby (Andy Webster) and Zal (Marius Zaliukas). Boys who have done the ugly side of the game. All in all, it was just a massive team performance.
“There is so much character in the dressing-room. We’ve got a great mix of boys with the likes of Webster, Rudi, Beattie and (Stephen) Elliott. These guys have all been there and are coming to their prime. Then you have younger guys as well.
“The balance is good. Things off the pitch haven’t helped at all this season – not paying wages, players not being allowed to play and things like that. But we’ve come through it.
“To me, over the last few weeks, Jamie MacDonald has been fantastic so I’m delighted he’s got his chance. The situation with Marian Kello wasn’t great but I’m pleased for Jamie. He’s a fantastic guy and a great goalkeeper. He deserves this as much as anyone.”