SINCE that famous sun-kissed day at Parkhead in May 1998, Hearts have twice reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
Deividas Cesnauskis played on both occasions and still remembers them fondly, even from 2500 miles away on the banks of the Caspian Sea.
Cesnauskis now plies his trade in the Azerbaijan Premier League with FC Baku. The Caucasus region is hot and humid with temperatures of 25°C, just the way he likes it. However, it doesn’t quite warm the heart the way memories of two successive semi-finals at Hampden Park in 2005 and 2006 do.
The Lithuanian winger was just seven games into his Hearts career when he climbed off the substitutes’ bench to score a wonder goal against Celtic in April 2005. He ultimately finished the match on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat, but was satisfied at showcasing his ability on such a grand stage.
Twelve months later, Cesnauskis started the 4-0 demolition of Hibs which propelled Hearts to the final against Gretna, a game they would eventually win on penalties. Paul Hartley might have been the hero that day, but every Hearts player earned legendary status after winning the biggest Edinburgh derby of the century by a landslide margin.
Now 30, Cesnauskis looks back with pride at such achievements. He has played in Lithuania, Russia, Greece and now Azerbaijan, and is also nearing his 50th international cap. Such a varied career is the envy of many, but Hearts’ cup exploits remain amongst his personal highlights.
First, he isn’t likely to forget that goal in 2005. “I remember it well. It was a great goal and a great time,” he recalled, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I had not been with Hearts for a very long time. I remember I came back from the national team and they didn’t pick me in the first XI for the game. I was on the bench and I came on in the second half. I had quite a good game and scored a good goal.
“That day was a big opportunity for us to get to the final. But Celtic are a big team and it is the same this time for Hearts. It was expected that we would not go through. It was disappointing to lose and we were not happy. Personally, I enjoyed scoring against Celtic but the team lost and we were out of the cup. Those emotions were not so good.”
Hearts atoned the following year. “The second year was a great game against Hibs,” he continued. “It was a derby and a huge game and everybody in the team enjoyed beating Hibs. Those emotions were all good, we were double happy, and then we had more in the final.
“Now this is a good chance to go through to the final again but, like 2005, it is against Celtic. I think the chances are 80/20 for Celtic. But it is only one game and I will give all my support to Hearts and hope that they win this game. I remember it was a good time for me at Hearts and I remember the supporters shouting for me. Everybody remembers me well and I am grateful for that.”
That 2005/06 campaign proved to be the pinnacle for Cesnauskis and many of his compatriots in Scotland. Hearts won the Scottish Cup and split the Old Firm by finishing second in the SPL and reaching the Champions League qualifying rounds. The season is also remembered as somewhat chaotic but Cesnauskis puts that down to the ruthless management of Vladimir Romanov, the club’s majority shareholder.
“It was the choice of Romanov to change the coaches so quickly that year. It was happening all the time. I think he likes a lot of attention when he makes these announcements. The journalists and newspapers wrote some things and he liked the attention.
“With the manager changing, nobody knew what was going to happen. We could go together and win games but then the coach would still change. The players did their job on the pitch because the team was strong in every position. It didn’t matter that the coach was changing, the team was together all season.
“We played very good football and we reached second place in the league. For a long time, only Celtic and Rangers were first and second. I didn’t know of any other team to do this. After that season, the team went down and up and down and up.”
Cesnauskis left towards the end of the 2008/09 season and headed to Greece to join Ergotelis feeling like he was no longer wanted in Edinburgh. “I left Hearts because I was not playing a lot in my last two years and I had many injuries there. I don’t know why,” he explained.
“The manager was Csaba Laszlo and he didn’t put me in the first XI when I was fit and ready. I spoke to Romanov and he said there were some problems with the money because of the economy at that moment. They said they didn’t want to keep me so I had to find a new team.”
After spells with Ergotelis and Aris Salonika, he chose to move to one of Europe’s most far-flung locations. “Baku is very good for me, the weather is very hot. Football is growing here. They are building new stadiums and new facilities for training camps so they are progressing at the moment.”
They don’t show Scottish football, though. Only the Russian and English leagues are broadcast in Azerbaijan so Cesnauskis will be restricted to internet coverage of Sunday’s semi-final. It is sure to be a memorable occasion for him nonetheless as his mind regurgitates images of his own Scottish Cup exploits.