ALEX HARRIS has already realised one dream – now he has his sights firmly set on another.
The teenager sat among the Hibs fans at the 2012 Scottish Cup final at Hampden and allowed himself to think about the day he might make his debut. Fast forward 12 months and not only has Harris achieved that target, he is now well on the way to making his other come true. Hibs might have lost out in the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup on Sunday, thanks to that 3-0 defeat by Celtic, but the fact that they made it to the last two – and played against the SPL champions – means that they have secured a place in the Europa League qualifiers.
The 18-year-old winger has only been in the reckoning for the matter of a few months, having made his first appearance off the bench against Dundee last October, but he would love a crack at Europe next season.
Though his priority is simply earning a regular starting spot for Hibs, being involved in the Europa League qualifiers next season would be a massive bonus.
Harris said: “I am hoping to knuckle down, get a good pre-season under my belt and hopefully play as much first-team football as I can.
“It has been great being involved over the last few months and I think I have gained a lot of experience.
“It would be amazing to be involved in the European games, especially as this has been my first season in the first team.
“I am looking forward to Europe. These are the games that everyone wants to be involved in although I’m just delighted to be playing regular football.”
Since he burst on to the scene towards the end of last year, Harris has made regular appearances and scored one of the goals that helped overturn what had looked to be an unassailable three-goal lead for Falkirk in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.
The supporters have been quick to take him to their hearts, excited by the sleight of foot and turn of pace that he has already shown to them.
Harris admits that he was blown away by the backing which the Hibs fans gave their side throughout the 3-0 defeat by Celtic on Sunday and how they stayed until the end of the match to watch their heroes collect their runners-up medals.
Against Hearts on the final day of last season, many chose to head for the exits long before the final whistle blew but, almost to a man, they stayed this time to recognise the effort that the players had put in. The teenager continued: “Against Hearts last year things just didn’t go our way but the last few weeks have been great. We’ve had a few good results and confidence was high going into this match.
“At the end of the day we came up against a side who’ve won the league and we’ve missed a couple of chances which might have made all the difference.
“Although we lost the match I thought that the supporters were amazing.
“The backing of the fans means everything for us, we give our all for them every week and it’s nice to know that they are right behind you.”
There’s no doubt that Hibs emerged with much more credibility from Hampden on Sunday than they did after last year’s humbling at the hands of Hearts.
And Harris, too, felt that Hibs had contributed greatly to an entertaining final. “We started really brightly,” he continued. “That was something that we had talked about because we weren’t happy with the way we started the semi-final against Falkirk. We went on to win that match, but we gave ourselves a lot of work to do to get the result in the end.
“But we couldn’t capitalise on the way that we started and then Celtic’s first two goals really killed us. They were two very similar goals as well, which was disappointing for us, and that is something we will need to learn from.
“After that, Celtic were on the front foot and when their third goal went in it just left us with too much to do.”
Harris had dozens for friends and family to support him at Hampden and he would have loved to have given them – and every other Hibs fan – something to cheer about by ending their 111-year drought in the competition.
He added: “I got a lot of texts the night before the final wishing me luck and my mum and all of my family and friends were at Hampden. I had to get my hands on quite a few tickets for everyone and it’s just a shame that we couldn’t get the win.
“Everyone was talking about the game and what it meant to the club because of the hoodoo that seems to hang over us in this competition, but it just wasn’t to be on the day.
“Everyone reminds us of the hoodoo at every possible opportunity and last season looked like it would be a great chance to end it. I was at the 5-1 game with my dad. I managed to get a ticket and went along as a fan.
“It’s a lot different when you are actually out there playing and I thought that it was great to see the Hibs supporters staying right to the end of the match as well. I don’t think anyone disgraced themselves and hopefully we can bounce back, go on to have a good season next time around and get ourselves back to Hampden as soon as possible.”
This week, Harris and team-mates Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Bradley Donaldson are in the Scotland Under-20 squad for the 60th Ado Den Haag Youth tournament which takes place in Belgium.
With Hibs’ European adventure due to begin in the second qualifying round of the Europa League on July 18, the summer will be a relatively short one for their players and coaching staff, but Harris is looking forward to extending the current campaign with Billy Stark’s side.
He added: “There are four boys from the club going away with Scotland so that will be good. I am looking forward to it. It’s more experience for me.
“After that, I have only got a few weeks off before we are back for pre-season so it is still going to be a busy time.”