TOM TAIWO admitted that he was almost moved to tears by the backing the Hibs fans gave their team at Hampden.
Despite losing 3-0 to Celtic in the final of the Scottish Cup, the thousands of Hibs supporters chanted, cheered and sang until the bitter end.
And Taiwo revealed that the entire team had been astonished by the way those in the stands got behind them in the face of defeat.
A double from Gary Hooper and a later strike from Joe Ledley consigned Hibs to defeat in the showpiece final for the second season on the bounce.
But they gave their all and were applauded by both sets of supporters as they went up to collect their runners-up medals at the end of the 90 minutes.
And Taiwo said: “I think that we can be proud of our overall performance, although the result wasn’t what we wanted.
“And the supporters were absolutely brilliant. It was actually quite a moving experience when we were three goals down and the fans were still shouting and singing for us.
“The boys gave absolutely everything that they had and they put that much into it that they even got a standing ovation from the Celtic supporters at the end of the match.
“We really appreciated the Hibs fans turning out in their numbers and supporting us right to the end, despite the scoreline. It meant even more when you think about what happened last year and I think it showed that they will support the club through thick and thin.
“That’s what supporting a team is all about.”
Taiwo is hoping that their run to the cup final and a much-improved league season than last time out will see a rise in attendance figures at Easter Road for the new campaign.
More than 20,000 Hibees made the trip to Hampden yesterday and the midfielder wants to see them turn out in big numbers when the new SPL season gets underway in August.
“Although we lost, I really enjoyed the experience of the cup final – and I want more of the same. I want to be playing at Easter Road in front of crowds of 17,000 and not only in derbies. For normal matches we want the fans to come pouring back to the stadium and we are hoping that performances like we have had over the past few weeks, particularly against Hearts, will convince them that it is worth buying a ticket and coming along to watch us every week.”
Despite feeling that they had given everything possible against Celtic, Taiwo admitted that defeat against the SPL champions was still hard to take. Eoin Doyle could have put Hibs in front as early as the sixth minute when he found himself in space to get on the end of a cracking Ryan McGivern cross, only for Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster to somehow block his header from close range.
To everyone in the stadium it had looked a certain goal and Taiwo refused to blame his team-mate for the missed opportunity. “We were disappointed, obviously. I thought we played really well for the first 15 minutes or so and created some really good chances but weren’t able to take them.
“We found ourselves two goals down before we knew what was happening, really, and that’s always difficult because when you give a team like Celtic a lead like that you’re suddenly facing a bit of a mountain to climb.
“If you give them a sniff you know that they are going to take it.
“We did have a couple of good chances but by no means was Eoin’s one a sitter. It was a difficult chance and I think that he did really well just to get it on target. That’s the little breaks that you sometimes need in a situation like a cup final.
“If that had gone in, or if my volley had dipped a bit quicker and gone in then we could have been talking about something different and could have found ourselves in the lead very early in the game.
“But it’s all ifs and buts at the end of the day. It hasn’t happened for us and we have just got to dust ourselves down and look to next season now.”
A major disappointment for manager Pat Fenlon would have been the manner in which his side conceded the first two goals, both being teed up by former Hibee Anthony Stokes and both finished at the back stick by Hooper.
“We know that they weren’t great goals to concede but we can’t go back and change it now,” Taiwo said. “On days like yesterday, you learn about your team spirit and the character that runs through it.
“Even when we were two down we still tried to play our football the right way, keep the ball on the ground and pass it around.
“We tried to keep doing the things that we know we are good at and I think that shows a real resilience because a lot of teams would have let their heads go down, sat deep and maybe conceded five or six goals.
“The goals we lost were maybe disappointing but our general play was good, I thought.”
The Easter Road club had been quick to deny rumours on Saturday night that talismanic striker Leigh Griffiths was struggling to make the final because of a calf injury.
However, it soon became apparent that he was indeed hampered by the problem and on several occasions he was left clutching the back of his right leg, wincing in pain.
While no-one could question either the manager or the player himself for making the decision to risk him – his goalscoring record this season was justification enough – Taiwo conceded that his side’s threat had been blunted.
“None of the players know too much about what the script was with Leigh’s injury,” stressed Taiwo, “we all just tried to focus on our own game.
“We knew that we had to win our own personal battles first and foremost.
“But when a guy who has scored 28 goals for you this season is struggling then you know that it is always going to be tough.”
While the Hibs players were disappointed to be going home with a runners-up medal, Taiwo insisted that the awards should be viewed as a reminder of what his side have achieved in the cup competition over the last year.
However, he admitted that their league form has been a real source of frustration to everyone connected with the side.
“That medal is a memento of the dedication and the hard work that we had to put in to get us to the cup final.
“It shows the hours that we have had to put in on the training pitch.
“In a way that was the most disappointing thing this season. We really thought that we could challenge at the top end of the table instead of ending up in the bottom six.
“We are a good side and we feel that we could have improved on that seventh-placed finish.
“In spells we showed that we can mix it with the best and, if things had gone a little differently with the chances we had, then it could have been us up there lifting that trophy.”