At 34 years of age Alan Maybury may be the elder statesman at Easter Road, but today the veteran defender admitted he’s as excited as any of his teenage team-mates as he looks forward to Sunday’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic.
For it has been 16 long years since the veteran defender last enjoyed such an occasion, his career in the intervening period a story of near misses.
And for that reason the former Republic of Ireland star will be urging the likes of Alex Harris, Danny Handling, Ross Caldwell and Jordon Forster to drink in and savour every minute of the build-up to Hampden and, of course, the big day itself.
Success, Maybury admitted, came early, a member of the Leeds United side which defeated Crystal Palace home and away to lift the FA Youth Cup in 1997, days when he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Harry Kewell, Paul Robinson, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith and Stephen McPhail, such was the precocious young talent emerging at Elland Road at that time.
Way back then, naturally, Maybury took it for granted there would be plenty more days like that, but experience has taught the much-travelled Dubliner that each and every such occasion should be embraced and enjoyed as you never know when you might get such an opportunity again.
He said: “It’s been quite a few years since I have been anywhere near a final. I was 18 the last time I played in one, since then I’ve been in a couple of semi-finals, but haven’t had a great record in them.
“That year at Leeds we scraped through the first round in a replay but then we battered on knowing we had a great chance to win the cup. It was a great achievement, but at the time you think there’s a few more to come. You think that’s how it is going to be every year, but you quickly learn it is not like that.
“I’d played in a good school team, a good youth team and then we won the reserve league at Leeds. There were successes, but when you come from under-age football into the first team you realise you are fighting for different things.”
Maybury realised as much as he moved into a first team containing household names such as Gary McAllister, Tony Dorigo, Gary Speed, Alf-Inge Haaland, Lee Bowyer, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Nigel Martyn.
And it is the standards set back then which Maybury has attempted to instil in today’s youngsters at Easter Road as he’s lent a helping hand to head of academy coaching James McDonaugh and his staff. He said: “I’ve had the opportunity to do some coaching to see if that’s for me.
“James has been brilliant for me and I’ve enjoyed that group. The youngsters who have come into the first team have been a breath of fresh air – they’ve given us an energy, they play without fear and their ability is right up there.
“They’ve come into difficult situations, Danny and Alex having such an influence on the semi-final against Falkirk, Jordon making his debut at Tynecastle and doing so well.
“At Leeds I had top class coaches in Paul Hart and Eddie Gray who also helped you grow up and, like the guys in the first team, looking after someone who had just moved away from home. They gave you a really good groundings, set standards that I still hold today and try to instil in the young lads.”
After five years at Leeds and spells on loan at Reading and Crewe, Maybury made a £100,000 move to Hearts where, although he enjoyed European football, cup success was to elude him as it did at Leicester City, Aberdeen – where he also paraded on the European stage – Colchester United and St Johnstone.
Maybury said: “I lost a semi-final at Hearts and again at Aberdeen when we were expected to beat Queen of the South and I was on the bench when St Johnstone lost to Motherwell. I never got near the final, but now I am at a club where some of the boys are getting the chance to play in such a match for the second time in succession.”
While Sunday’s match offers Fenlon’s players the chance to atone, at least to some degree, for the misery of last season, Maybury acknowledges that as his career nears its end such an opportunity may never arise for him again. In fact, it looked as if it had gone when Falkirk stunned Hibs by racing into a 3-0 lead in the semi-final.
Maybury, who had played in the Scottish Cup wins over Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock but was an on-looker that day, said: “I have to admit I was thinking ‘here we go again,’ am I never going to make it to the final. No-one could have predicted what was going to happen but we just knew that if we could get a goal back we were in with a chance.”
Running out at Hampden on Sunday will bring the curtain down on a season which began with him facing an uncertain future after leaving St Johnstone. He said: “I probably did not play as much as I would have liked. I was just filling holes. I played right back, left back, central midfield but no matter how I did I was out again. It was disappointing, but I felt I had contributed.
“My agent knew Pat Fenlon and got me in to train at Hibs and to see how things went from there. Training in the group was good. There was a lot of changes going on, players coming and going, the manager moving people on and trying to get others in. But he was keen for me to stay part of the group.”
Maybury did play in a pre-season match against East Fife only to be told Fenlon couldn’t offer him a contract, the situation suddenly changing as he was asked to join the Hibs squad for their tour of Holland, Belgium and Germany although, again, no promises were made.
He said: “It was a case of going away for ten days without any inclination it might be going somewhere. The manager was hopeful, but a deal wasn’t really any closer.”
The departure of Isaiah Osbourne to Blackpool appeared to add a new dimension as he returned as a former Hearts player to “cross the divide” and sign a season-long contract. Admitting the events of last summer seem so long ago, Maybury said: “I’ve been up and down the country since I left Hearts, but I feel I did well for them and you can’t take away anything I did at Tynecastle.
“Perhaps it’s different for lads growing up in Edinburgh and being fans of one club or the other, but I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for both clubs. You are not going to please everyone, but I think most fans, even if I do not get people off there seats, appreciate I give my all for the clubs I play for. They see I am committed to the cause.”
Like any player who has had such a lengthy career, Maybury has experienced plenty of highs and lows, but he added: “I can look back on my career with pride, even more so if we can win the cup. I’ve never thought it would never happen, but I cannot wait for Sunday. I’ve waited a long time.”
Not as long, of course, as Hibs themselves. Maybury said: “It’s only when you get into this club, understand what it is about, it’s make-up, the fabric, the history, the fans, can you fully understand what it means. We are well aware of it.”