Don Cowie silenced the Hibs support by scoring on his last visit to Easter Road. Eight years later, he is back and aiming to upset the natives again.
The midfielder’s last goal for Inverness sparked a 2-1 win in Leith in November 2008, with a certain Ian Black netting the winner. Tonight’s Scottish Cup fifth round replay between Hibs and Hearts is rather more prestigious, and Cowie wants to inflict damage once more.
He already knows the value of the Edinburgh derby having made his Hearts debut in the first match at Tynecastle. Watching the dejection in the home dressing room after a two-goal lead was squandered with ten minutes remaining left him in no doubt about the pride involved. An unexpected trip to Easter Road adds to an already-congested fixture list but Cowie is ready for action.
His career has taken him to the dizzy heights of England’s Premier League and back since he last played there. He joined Hearts on transfer deadline day after leaving Wigan and will make only his third appearance for his new club this evening. Two of those will have come against Hibs. A seasoned professional at 32, he can’t get enough of the Capital rivalry.
“I remember scoring in my last game there. I’d love to do that again tonight,” he told the Evening News. “I remember it was a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and we went on to win the game 2-1, so it was really pleasing. I thought playing in the Edinburgh derby was great. Being Scottish and being brought up here, I’ve watched many a Hearts-Hibs game on TV. I was well aware of the rivalry and passion between both teams. To actually play in it in that atmosphere was tremendous. I’m really looking forward to tonight.
“This is why I came to Hearts. I had some options but, being Scottish, I know how big Hearts are. The rivalry with Hibs, Celtic, Aberdeen, Rangers and teams like that is great. Last time I was in Scotland, I was with Inverness and Ross County. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot more mellow playing for those clubs. I’ll always be indebted to those two clubs because they were great for me but there isn’t quite the intensity or pressure of being at a club like Hearts. Being thrown into these kind of games is the reason I was delighted to come here.
“Coming off at the end of the first game and seeing the disappointment at drawing, it hit home how big the rivalry is. It was a tough day for football in terms of the wind and the weather, but we were 2-0 up at half-time without playing great football. I thought we just managed the game better and played the conditions better. We were in a great position. To let the two-goal lead slip and then to come into the dressing room and see the disappointment, it really brought it home to me how big a game this is. Hibs were obviously cock-a-hoop because they managed to get a draw, so you see the difference in the two body languages. Tonight we’ve got a chance to put that right.”
He faced world-renowned superstars like Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney and Mesut Ozil whilst with Cardiff City. Being propelled into a debut as a substitute against Hibs after just ten minutes caught him off guard slightly, though. “I was just sitting on the bench having a chat with one of the young boys, just getting to know him really. Then, the next minute, I’m going on,” smiled Cowie, who had played just seven times for Wigan this season.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind but probably the best thing - getting no time to think about it and being thrown straight in there. I was disappointed with how the game finished but, personally, getting 80 minutes under my belt was great. The 90 minutes last Wednesday at Ross County helped me more. One of my strengths as a footballer is my fitness. There are two types of fitness, though. You can be fit but then there’s match fitness. That’ll come with the more games I play. I felt comfortable fitness-wise but I felt tired towards the end in both games. That’s natural.”
Experiences south of the border and with Scotland will stand him in good stead over time. Hearts see him as a key competitor in midfield as well as an influential figure around Riccarton.
That he already knows plenty about Scotland’s top flight is a bonus as the Edinburgh club strive to qualify for Europe and reach the latter stages of the Scottish Cup.
“I had 18 months in the Scottish Premier League, as it was called then, with Inverness. It was a really successful time for me,” said Cowie. “It gets to the stage where you look to take your career further. I think it was only natural to go to England. I was told of Watford’s interest at the time and, although you go there with a bit of apprehension, I felt it was another stepping stone in my career – one I had to make. It’s been fully justified.”
He went on to Cardiff and Wigan before being lured north by the pull of Hearts. “The whole package just seemed perfect for me. Hearts are a massive club in this country. I was thinking that, if Rangers and Hibs can both come up from the Championship, it’s got the makings of a tremendous league. We are progressing really well and Aberdeen are starting to challenge Celtic. Potentially, there’s getting into Europe. Potentially, there’s winning a cup. Hearts just seemed right for me.
“One of the things I pride myself on is my professionalism and fitness. I know I’m the other side of 30 and people might think, ‘oh’, because I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year deal. It was based on the fact they look at me as someone who is a fit player. Age isn’t something to take into account. Hopefully I can use the experiences I’ve had to help the young players here.”