Liam Henderson already has one cup winner’s medal to his name this season. But there was no ticker tape welcome as he received it, no climbing the steps with his team-mates to lift the trophy and have their medals hung around their necks.
No, Henderson’s Norwegian Cup winner’s medal arrived at his Broxburn home in the post, his reward for the part he had played in helping Rosenborg clinch the silverware despite being nowhere near Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadion as his one-time team-mates defeated Sarpsborg in the final. By then, Henderson had long departed Norway, his loan spell over as he’d returned to Celtic only to find himself being farmed out once again to Hibs where the 20-year-old can dream once again of winning a cup medal – only this time hoping he’ll be collecting it in more traditional style.
He revealed: “I played five cup games for Rosenborg, the first being away to Vuku which was in the middle of nowhere – a three-hour bus ride away. It was only my second game. I scored the opening goal and we went on to win 3-0 so it was a good way to start my loan spell in Norway.
“I was a bit surprised to get the medal but it came in the post one Saturday morning along with my league winner’s medal. It wasn’t even by special delivery or anything like that but it was nice to get it. I’d kept in touch with the player-liaison guy over there and he made sure I got my medals.
“It was rather an unusual way to get them, but obviously it would be something else to walk up the steps at Hampden tomorrow with my team-mates and get a winner’s medal hung round my neck. The Scottish Cup is a massive tournament. There’s a lot of glamour attached to it and it would cap off a really big season not only for me but the club and the fans.”
Henderson admitted he’d like to see Scottish football adopt the system used in Norway and other foreign countries where players are eligible for a medal no matter how big or small a part they’ve played in their club’s success.
He said: “I think it is a better way. Here you can play in every round and then pick up a suspension or an injury which rules you out of the final. How can you say the guy who scores the winner in the first round but doesn’t play in the final for one reason or another has played any lesser a role than the player who is lucky enough to score the goal that wins the cup?
“We had Paul Hanlon and Fraser Fyvie who were unlucky enough to miss the League Cup final but were in the team when we were beating the likes of Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone to get there. Then you’ve got someone like Dominique Malonga who scored in our first Scottish Cup game against Raith Rovers but has since left the club. So hopefully that’s an idea that will be under consideration. Widening the number of players eligible for a medal wouldn’t make the manager’s job any easier or more difficult, he still has to pick the team and the bench he believes can win the game. Obviously, everyone wants to play on the day, no-one wants to be left out but there would still be that way of recognising the contribution everyone has made over the course of the cup run.”
Henderson and fellow Celtic loanee Anthony Stokes are available to Alan Stubbs tomorrow because, of course, their parent club were knocked out by Old Firm rivals Rangers in a dramatic semi-final penalty shoot-out to set up the first Scottish Cup final between two teams not in the top flight. The Glasgow club go into the final as favourites despite Hibs beating them twice at Easter Road this season with Rangers triumphant in the two games played at Ibrox.
But, while acknowledging how well Mark Warburton’s side have done this season in clinching the Championship title, Henderson pointed out that he and his team-mates have every right to feel just as confident.
He said: “Rangers are a talented side. Mark Warburton, as we have seen, is a really good manager, very intelligent and a clever guy. He’s got Davie Weir as his assistant, another good guy, and they’ve built a good philosophy and a nice way to play football. With players like Barrie McKay, Lee Wallace and Martyn Waghorn back fit they always look dangerous. But we’re a talented bunch as well, we’ve got a good mix of old and young with the older guys keeping the younger ones on the straight and narrow.”
And Henderson revealed he’s enjoyed having former Rangers player Kevin Thomson as his mentor over the past few months, the ex-Scotland midfielder back at Easter Road for a third time where, although he’s not featured as much as he’d have liked in recent weeks, he’s proved an invaluable sounding board for the youngster.
He said: “Kevin has been unbelievable for me, honestly. He has spoken to me, I room with him and I owe a lot to him as I’ve learned so much. He’s been second to none for me with advice from the big games he has played in. I had Scott Brown to listen to at Celtic but I cannot speak highly enough of Thommo. I’ll keep in touch to ask him things even if we go our different ways. I’ll always be looking to ask him about things.”
Henderson will go into tomorrow’s match knowing it will be his last for Hibs as he’ll return to Celtic and a new manager following the departure of Ronny Deila. But part of him wishes he’d be staying at Easter Road where his passion for the game has made him a huge favourite with the fans, with, as he sees it, some unfinished business to attend to – promotion. He said: “It’s been a long, hard season. We put a lot into it and we were really disappointed not to get promotion. You have to give Falkirk credit for their never-say-die attitude but over the two legs I don’t think we deserved to go out. But that’s football, that’s why people pay to come and watch. It can be a magical game at times, but other times it’s a terrible game.
“I’ve got a new manager to look forward to at Celtic but part of me says to come back here next season to get promotion. There will always be that part of me that will want to come back. There will always be a special place in my heart for the rest of my life for the fans, the boys, the manager. I can’t speak highly enough of any of them. In a way it’s good for me that there’s a new manager at Celtic, but part of me feels that I want to come back and get this club back to where it belongs.
“I am quite a passionate guy in everything I do, whatever it is. I want to do it to the best of my ability, to have no regrets. I never want to let anyone down, the boys in the dressing-room, the manager, the fans.”
To that end, Henderson is determined to leave the pitch at Hampden tomorrow with every ounce of energy expended, he and his team-mates well aware of the legendary status that will be accorded them if they were to end Hibs’ Scottish Cup hoodoo, those 114 years of waiting.
He said: “It’s something we know about obviously, but we’ve not really talked about it. We’re quite a relaxed bunch, but we’re going to give it our best. You don’t want to come off with any regrets. We’ll give it our all and see what happens. It’s game 54 of the season for us, the last one and we have to throw everything we’ve got at it.”