Never mind the road to Hampden, this Scottish Cup adventure has felt like the road to redemption for Hibs.
Thanks to Saturday’s incredible fightback against Falkirk, a journey that began with a face-saving victory over city rivals Hearts, has one last leg to be negotiated next month. The destination is now within tantalising reach.
The very same goal appeared within touching distance just 12 months ago after a semi-final success against Aberdeen but Pat Fenlon’s patched-up side fell embarrassingly short at the last hurdle in the cruellest of fashions.
And it is the humiliation of that 5-1 thrashing from Hearts that gives this year’s run its sense of context. As the Easter Road side’s 111-year wait for the trophy exemplifies, history cannot be erased. But mistakes can be atoned for, the promises made in the wake of such a depressing day for supporters of the green and white half of the city can be made good.
Saturday encapsulated that narrative neatly in two hours of astonishing football. At the heart of it all was one player whose personal convalescence from last May has summed up just what Hibs have achieved in recovering from being routed in such a humiliating way by their oldest foes.
Jorge Claros plays in a role that is often described as the one performing the unseen work. But on Saturday his importance for surely visible for all at the national stadium. There he was picking up loose balls, snapping into tackles, tracking back, switching play, keeping the waves of second-half attacks raining down on the Falkirk goal.
A year ago it was such a different story for the Honduras internationalist on his last appearance at Hampden. One of six loan players in the starting line-up against Hearts, the midfielder suffered the ignominy of being substituted before half-time following an anonymous display in which his 42 minutes on the pitch passed him by tamely.
Many thought his loan deal would be cut short last summer but few will have predicted the way the 27-year-old has gone on to rehabilitate himself in such a determined manner. For someone who was shot in the head and shoulder during a carjacking in his native Honduras but returned to the pitch just a fortnight later, his reaction to such an on-field low point 12 months ago should perhaps not be a surprise.
But, for the Central American, Saturday’s return to the national stadium was a liberating one after the fears and doubts were cranked up by as woeful a first-half from Hibs as Falkirk could have dreamed of.
“My head was saying ‘oh my God, not again’ after the Scottish Cup final last year,” confessed Claros. “Of course that was not a good game for the team, the club, the supporters or myself.
“I was not happy to be substituted when I was in the final against Hearts last year. But to come back and to help the team win their next game at Hampden makes me very, very happy.
“My wife and little boy watched the game and I could not be happier to make them proud and hopefully the supporters as well.”
The thought of another shameful day out at the national stadium was too much for some Hibs fans to contemplate, with hundreds flooding towards the exits when Blair Alston rolled in Falkirk’s third goal after just 29 minutes.
The anguish had started as early as the sixth minute when Craig Sibbald calmly slotted in the Bairns’ first and was cranked up in the 18th minute when Jay Fulton headed in the First Division side’s second all too easily as the Hibs defence went walkabout.
Although Scott Robertson’s miserable half hour on the pitch was summed up when he horribly miscued a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise at 1-0 in the ninth minute, and Alex Harris had looped a shot off the top of the bar, such was the slipshod nature of Hibs’ performance there appeared no way back for them at the interval.
But Claros, who never seems likely off the pitch to live up to his on-field ‘Pitbull’ nickname, insisted there were some words of calm thrown around a fraught dressing-room at half-time that two-goal match-winner Leigh Griffiths revealed had come close to descending into a full-blown punch-up.
“The first-half was incredible because after 30 minutes we were saying ‘what happened?’,” added Claros.
“But everybody just came in and said we had to work hard in the second half and thankfully we were able to make up for a terrible first half.
“The manager told us we had not given ourselves a chance to win playing the way we did in the first half, to be 3-0 down after 30 minutes, and of course we knew we had not been good enough. But he said we could still win it in the second half and the way it happened it makes the win even more enjoyable.”
The manner of Saturday’s victory, coupled with the way they negotiated the earlier rounds against the SPL trio of Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, will have some hoping this will finally be the year Hibs land the trophy they last got their hands on more than a century ago in 1902.
But, whilst May 26’s showpiece against Celtic will be a stand-alone challenge for the Easter Road side, Claros admits to sensing an inevitability about Hibs’ eventual success on Saturday, which finally came courtesy of Griffiths’ sensational strike five minutes from the lottery of penalties.
“Once the game went to extra-time, the way we had come back from 3-0 to 3-3, I always felt we had a good chance of going on to win it,” he said. “Falkirk looked like they were quite tired and we were the more confident team after scoring three goals to come back. Now we have another Scottish Cup final to look forward to and hopefully we can get just one more win.”
It would be a victory that would complete a year of redemption for all in green and white.