If I’d only taken advice from a very good friend of mine who was convinced a number of weeks before it was confirmed that a Hibs versus Hearts Scottish Cup final was written in the stars.
Maybe the reason I chose not to take his advice, and the odds on offer, was I had heard from so many supporters from both sides that they were hoping this wouldn’t materialise for the sake of their own health. However, as the big day is just about upon us, we are all going to have to find some inner-strength to see us through the duration of the match, whatever the final outcome happens to be.
Watching the final day of the English Premiership and the drama that unfolded in the remaining two minutes of Manchester City’s victory has really whetted my appetite for tomorrow’s showdown at Hampden. If I envisage sitting in the changing room at 2.55pm awaiting the referee and his officials to escort the teams through the tunnel and out on to the park sends shivers down my spine. All the preparation and hard work goes out the window as nothing can prepare you for what is about to take place and this is the moment you find out everything about your own self and your team-mates.
Everyone connected with this great club is only too aware of how much a victory tomorrow would mean to the green and white supporters of the city. The fans will do all they can to transfer their emotions on to the field but the one key ingredient you need is for the players to perform to their capabilities. This is the big test for the squad and there will be nothing worse than those players arriving back in the dressing-room at the end of the match clutching a runners-up medal and asking themselves “if only.”
Looking at both sides, Hibs with Griffiths, O’Connor and McPake are all match-winners in their own right, and Hearts with Skacel, Beattie and Webster, possess all the experience to get them through such an occasion. Ian Black has been allowed to dictate play in this year’s derbies and, therefore, Pat Fenlon must get his correct balance in the midfield as I believe this is an area of the park which could prove a telling factor between the two sides.
Hearts have also been the far more consistent side this year in the league with a group of players who have been together considerably longer which makes them the bookies’ favourites. This in itself can bring added pressure on the Hearts players’ shoulders but whatever has happened previously between the two clubs is now all in the past. This is an entirely unique event and the long bragging rights the Gorgie faithful have enjoyed for many years may suddenly disappear come the referee’s final whistle tomorrow.
This week I was asked by a reporter to draw on the comparisons of this Saturday’s final showpiece with my own experiences of lifting the League Cup with Hibs in 1991. My response to him was I simply couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I cherished every moment of that day and still do, but the magnitude of tomorrow’s final with Hearts is head and shoulders above what I as a player tasted all those years ago.
There is sure to be a lot of passion and commitment as every derby entails but the end rewards are something we’ve simply never experienced before. Come Sunday, the city’s streets will be lined with supporters from either Hibs or Hearts with the celebrations sure to extend well into next week and beyond. Many neutrals have spouted their delight at seeing both Edinburgh sides in the showpiece event of the Scottish football season and, to an extent, they are right. But when Hibs haven’t tasted Scottish Cup success in over a century, there has to be only one winner in this game and that is Hibernian Football Club. With my nerves beginning to edge in as I write this, my lasting words to Pat Fenlon and his players is all the very best and please finally bring the Cup home to Easter Road.