Ryan McGivern watched as Yaya Touré drove Manchester City fans wild with a goal which ended the club’s longest every trophy drought, 35 years of waiting brought to an end as Roberto Mancini’s side lifted the FA Cup.
But, as he drank in the delirious celebrations at Wembley, he could only dream of enjoying such an occasion himself, having travelled to London that day in May 2011 knowing he wouldn’t be involved despite having made his City debut only a month earlier as a late substitute in a 5-0 mauling of Sunderland. Today, though, the 23-year-old Northern Ireland defender has his fingers crossed that Saturday will prove to be his big day, the chance to take Hibs to the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup for the second season in succession.
And, he insisted, the hope of playing in such matches was part of the reason behind his season-long move from the Etihad Stadium. McGivern said: “I knew I was coming up here to a massive club. I watched last year’s Scottish Cup final back home and I know the bitter disappointment everyone connected with the club felt at the outcome.
“However, I also felt Hibs had as good a chance as anyone to get back to that final stage and perhaps go one better. So far we’ve managed to do that and now we have one more hurdle to cross.”
Like any new arrival at Easter Road, McGivern was quickly made aware of Hibs’ love-hate relationship with the Scottish Cup which stretches all the way back to 1902 but, he argued, the more often the club finds itself contesting the final the greater the chance becomes of smashing that hoodoo.
He said: “Many players go through their entire careers without getting the chance to play in a cup final, now we have the opportunity if we can beat Falkirk to be in it for the second time in two years. The boys who played last year still have that disappointment and anger in them to get through Saturday and hopefully set up the chance to put that right.
“I think the boys have shown great character in our cup run. We’ve done it the hard way with tricky games against Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, three SPL sides and in each match I think we fully deserved our victories.”
McGivern rates Saturday’s lunchtime showdown with the Bairns as the biggest club game of a career which has taken him to Leicester City, Walsall, Crystal Palace and Bristol City, his experience of cup finals limited to his youth and helping Northern Ireland’s elite squad lift the Milk Cup five years ago.
He said: “The FA Cup final in 2011 was a fantastic occasion. I wasn’t involved, but I went down with a few of the lads to cheer City on against Stoke. City were the favourites, but anything can happen in a final, it’s a one-off occasion but thankfully big Yaya scored to give the club their first cup in a long, long time.
“I remember thinking to myself at the time I’d love to be involved in such an occasion as a player and now, on Saturday, I have that opportunity and, hopefully, an even bigger one back at Hampden at the end of next month.
“I’m actually hoping for a great weekend, a win for us on Saturday and to then sit and watch City take on Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday. It would be terrific if both Hibs and City could be in our respective cup finals.”
However, in saying as much, McGivern is well aware Pat Fenlon’s players face a tough match against a Falkirk side buoyed not only by the arrival of new manager Gary Holt but a recent run of four successive wins, a record which is in stark contrast to Hibs’ form of late, three defeats culminating in that 3-0 loss at Celtic Park depriving them of the top-six finish of which they seemed assured only a few months ago.
McGivern, though, insisted he and his team-mates can shake off that bitter disappointment. He said: “I don’t think we need to lift ourselves. Of course it was a bitter disappointment not to make the top six, that was our main aim for the season and we didn’t manage to pull it off.
“It was frustrating to let that opportunity slip but we have a great chance on Saturday to get to another final and end the season on a high. We know we have to put on a performance as good as we can produce to give ourselves every chance.”
If Falkirk are perhaps something of an unknown quantity to the Hibs support, Fenlon and his backroom staff, as would be expected, have produced an in-depth dossier on their First Division opponents but, McGivern revealed, he has a little inside knowledge of his own. He said: “I know Falkirk’s goalkeeper Michael McGovern from the Northern Ireland squad and I’ve played with Johnny Flynn before at youth level back home. It will be good to come up against them, but to ruin their day by getting the right result.
“There hasn’t been any contact so far but I’m sure there will be a bit of banter via text messages between now and then. But we have to remember it’s also a massive occasion for Falkirk. We won’t be treating them any differently from any other team this season; on the day it’s 11 against 11, sometimes it can simply come down to who wants it more and we have to show we want it more than anyone.”
McGivern will certainly be hoping for a much happier day at Hampden than his one and only previous appearance at the national stadium, sent off after picking up two yellow cards for fouls on former Hibs midfielder Scott Brown as he faced Scotland in a friendly on his international debut as an 18-year-old. Thankfully for McGivern, then Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington took an understanding view of the incidents, the Newry-born star, who has played at every age group from under-16 to full internationals for his country, remaining in the squad for the following World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and San Marino.
McGivern, who has now amassed 19 caps, said: “It’s one game I’ll never be able to forget, sent off in my first game for my country, but hopefully Saturday will be a match to remember for all the right reasons.
“My brothers Francis and Richard were at Hampden that night, they go to most of Northern Ireland’s games, it’s something they won’t let me forget and they’ve been winding me up a bit telling me not to have a repeat of last time on Saturday.”