IN case you hadn’t noticed, Ryan McGowan is rather fond of a wild goal celebration. If he isn’t giving it both fists at Easter Road he’s galloping round the track after Craig Beattie at Hampden. And he would’ve caught him. He was just letting the striker have his moment, bare chest and all that.
McGowan’s unrestrained euphoria whenever Hearts score has helped him develop into a Tynecastle hero this season. Part of the attraction is he doesn’t care whether he’s the goalscorer or not. When the ball hits the net, he’s off running in a spontaneous fit of excitement. It certainly makes for captivating viewing.
Tomorrow, the Australian aims to go from hero to bona fide legend by helping Hearts beat Hibs to lift the Scottish Cup in the biggest ever Edinburgh derby. If he is fortunate enough to score in a cup final against his club’s greatest rivals, and even the winner, who knows what he could get up to by way of celebration.
“I couldn’t even begin to imagine it,” said McGowan, his eyes opening wide at the prospect. “I’ll be excited if anyone scores. If it’s me, God knows what I’ll end up doing.
“It’s one of those things which, no matter how many times you go through it in your head, you won’t know what you’re going to do until it actually happens. I don’t think I’d even run round the track this time, I’d probably just run all the way back to Edinburgh. Beattie can chase me this time.”
It was McGowan who scampered off the pitch in pursuit of Beattie after Hearts’ winning goal in the semi-final against Celtic. Whilst one was “doing the Beattie”, the other was happy to let his team-mate take the limelight. They had plenty time to catch up later.
“I wasn’t on a yellow card so I could just run around and go crazy after the penalty went in,” explained McGowan. “I don’t think I could’ve just stood there anyway. Once I saw Beattie run off I thought, ‘I’m going to try and chase him’. And I want to say that I would’ve caught him, I just wanted him to do his little run before I got there. I didn’t want to intercept his celebration.”
That caper was voted Most Memorable Moment of the Season by Hearts supporters as well as providing a good deal of banter inside the dressing-room.
“It’s something I look back on and laugh at. It’s quite funny when you watch it now,” said McGowan.
Given he knows how to celebrate at Hampden, and having sampled the feeling of scoring against Hibs, the defender is perfectly prepared should events go in Hearts’ favour tomorrow. His header in front of the away support at Easter Road in January will forever remain a career highlight. The celebration wasn’t bad either. “It was my first goal and it was something I dreamt about. Scoring at that end as well, emotion just takes over. I watched it back thinking, ‘I can’t remember doing this’. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually done it. The goal just means a lot to me and, with it being against Hibs, it was that extra bit special.”
The hero bit doesn’t really sit too comfortably, though. McGowan doesn’t deliberately seek attention, he just happens to get carried away a bit when Hearts score. Most people warm to him, judging by the response from fans.
“I’m not too used to it, to be honest. I’d rather concentrate on my own game and, if the fans or anyone takes to it, then so be it. I’ll worry about my own performance and if they enjoy it or like it, then I’m happy.”
Regardless of goals or celebrations, McGowan will simply be grateful to be on the pitch tomorrow. He made little impact on the team earlier in the season and on many occasions was left in the stand having been omitted from matchday squads. His future under manager Paulo Sergio looked bleak until a dramatic transformation during the winter months.
McGowan is now first-choice right-back and a certain starter for the final. “It’s kind of funny how things can work out in football,” he acknowledged. “I was in and out of the team earlier this season, but since I’ve come over to this country I’ve known that if you keep your head down and work hard then, when the opportunity comes, you’ll be ready. It’s a cliche but it’s worked.
“I’m lucky enough that, when the gaffer’s chucked me in different positions, I’ve handled it okay. I’ve ended up keeping a position and I’m just delighted that it could end with a Scottish Cup win. When I was a kid it was probably the World Cup I dreamt of lifting but I think that’s a bit far-fetched. A lot of players go through their career and never win anything. For me, just starting my career and getting the chance to win something in my first full season would honestly be a dream come true. I would look back on it in years to come and still be delighted with it.
“You just need to look at how the fans look upon the team in 1998 and 2006. People will always remember you and I think people will always remember this game with it being against Hibs. You want to make sure we are remembered for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.
“All my family and friends back in Adelaide are quite excited and looking forward to seeing it. Overall, the final has caught on in Australia because it’s Hearts and Hibs and not the Old Firm in the cup final.
“I’ve had a lot of people contacting me on Twitter from Australia, and different parts of the world, intending to come over. Even if they don’t have a ticket they want to be part of the atmosphere that will be around Edinburgh.
“I think my folks will have a few beers before the game and then be up till all hours if we win because kick-off time is 11.30pm over there. I’ll try to call home afterwards to speak to everyone. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. All my friends and family and people close to me that I grew up with will be watching it. I’d like them all to come over here but I’m sure I’m going to have a good time here if we win.
“This is a one-off. It’s one of those unique opportunities. It’s been 100-odd years since this has happened, so the chances of it happening again any time soon are very slim. Obviously it’s a big occasion but, as professionals, we need to make sure we don’t play the occasion. We need to play the match. I think whoever plays the game better will probably end up winning.”
If that happens to be Hearts, there will be much celebrating to be done. So look out for McGowan sprinting along the M8 hard shoulder on his way back to Edinburgh.