David Gray, the unlikely hero of Hibs’ greatest day, isn’t usually one for getting carried away, but the right-back couldn’t help himself from pondering the possibility of scoring the winner in the build-up to Saturday’s Scottish Cup final.
The captain-turned-club legend was buzzing with anticipation as the big day grew closer and he revealed that he and room-mate Liam Fontaine had spent Friday night in their room at Cameron House, Hibs’ pre-match base, discussing what the “fairytale scenario” might be.
Incredibly, Gray then proceeded to turn their bedtime small talk into reality when he headed in the stoppage-time winner against Rangers as Hibs finally banished their 114-year hoodoo in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.
“Me and Big Fonts were actually talking in the room on Friday night about what it would be like to score the winner and what the fairytale scenario would be,” the 28-year-old man of the moment told the Evening News. “He said scoring in the 89th minute would be the dream and I said ‘no, it needs to be later than that, it needs to be in stoppage time because there’ll still be time for them to get back into it otherwise’. After I scored, I looked over to him on the bench and just thought ‘that’s unbelievable’.
“It’s what dreams are made of. When I scored I didn’t really know what I’d just done. I had all sorts of things going through my head. All I’ve really got memory-wise is being in amongst the crowd and then getting booked for it. The ref actually apologised to me for it. It’s the rules of the game so I’ve got no complaints about that but I couldn’t help myself.
“I’ve no idea how long it’s going to take to sink in. I’d been pinching myself all week trying to stop myself getting carried away about the prospect of winning it. It’s hard not to think ‘imagine we win it’, ‘what could happen?’ and things like that. You have to overcome that and keep your feet on the ground. I’m just delighted for every single person at the club. I’m so grateful to all the lads and the manager and his staff for making this possible. It’s a massive achievement and it’s been a real joint effort.”
As well as completing the job by scoring the historic winner, Gray also played a captain’s role in rousing his shattered team-mates after their agonising play-off defeat by Falkirk a week past Friday. The right-back was emotionally floored last weekend, but knew he had to lead from the front if his team were to have any chance of beating Rangers. He took to the squad’s WhatsApp group chat – of which every player is involved – and posted a lengthy message intended to rally his team-mates for a match which would effectively make-or-break a season which had threatened to deliver so much but was in danger of fizzling out with a whimper.
“I just felt that after getting so close in the League Cup and in the play-offs, this was too big an opportunity for us not to take,” he explained. “The pain of losing the League Cup final was a big motivation. I was in a dark place after that game and I used that as motivation to get us past Inverness in the next game just a few days later. We felt we had to get back to Hampden and put things right after that. Not getting promoted was also a hard one to take.
“I was so disappointed after the play-offs because both of the games could easily have gone our way, but I knew we still had a great opportunity to make the season special and I didn’t want us to miss it.
“My message was just a case of ‘Listen lads, Friday’s gone. There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to make sure we’re right back on it for coming in on Monday morning.’ That was certainly the case because we trained well all week and firmly believed we could achieve this. I feel so proud of the boys.
“We’re very disappointed at not getting promoted but the Championship is a tough league to get out of. A lot of fans would have taken the cup over promotion at the start of the season but we were greedy and we wanted everything. Unfortunately we just fell short but the motivation was to finish the season on a high and give the fans something back for their loyalty.”
Gray and his team-mates celebrated with a party at Easter Road on Saturday before the skipper nipped off to make a midnight cameo appearance at the wedding of his childhood friend Terry McBeth. He then rejoined his history-making colleagues at a city centre nightspot where he was swarmed by jubilant fans. “I was disappointed I wasn’t able to get to Tez’s wedding, but I’m sure he understands why I couldn’t make it!” said Gray. “I felt I had to make an appearance though so I went up for a few minutes and caught up with all the boys I grew up with. They are delighted for me. Quite a few of them actually had money on me to score, so they had a good night as well.”
Gray’s emergence as a Hibs legend comes at a time when a couple of his old Manchester United youth-team colleagues have earned similar status at Leicester City after helping the Midlands club to an unlikely Premier League triumph.
“I played alongside Danny Drinkwater and Danny Simpson and what they’ve achieved is fairytale stuff as well,” he said. “I was pally with them at United and I always knew they were good footballers who would go on and do good things in the game. The three of us have done it the long way round in terms of leaving United to get success. To have the opportunity to be at a club like that was a massive dream for me anyway and I thought I had a chance of making it at one of the best clubs in the world. It wasn’t to be and when you leave there, you think ‘where can I go from here?’ but I’ve always believed as my career has gone on that I would achieve things. This is obviously the biggest yet. It’s the first trophy I’ve ever won but I’m delighted at where I achieved it and how it came about.”
Gray is grateful to popular head coach Alan Stubbs for offering him a platform to establish himself in his homeland after a period of jumping from club to club in the English lower leagues. “I’ve got a lot to thank the manager for,” he said. “He took a chance on me and made me his first signing. He’s been great since he came in. He’s achieved everything in football and played at the highest level so for a man of that calibre to make me captain of such a big club was a huge honour. I enjoy coming in here every single day and I love being around this group of lads because they’re such an easy bunch to captain and get on with.”
There was a point on Saturday when it seemed like Hibs might be set for a familiar tale of sorrow as Rangers established a 2-1 lead going into the closing quarter of the game. However, Hibs somehow roused themselves in an epic finale.
“As the game went on and we were trailing 2-1, you realise that you have to start taking a few more risks to get back into it,” said Gray. “Once we got the second goal to equalise, I felt we got a second wind and I could sense everybody’s chests puffing out. I thought ‘here we go’. Even if it went into it extra-time, I felt we were going to win it.”