This weekend sees two cup finals over two days involving two Edinburgh teams, but Whitehill Welfare boss Steve Hislop hopes neither are celebrating after their respective final whistles.
His Lowland League side take on SPFL-bound Edinburgh City in the South Challenge Cup at East Peffermill on Sunday. And on Saturday Hibs will attempt to end their now infamous 114-year hoodoo in the national version at Hampden.
After only a few weeks in charge at Welfare, silverware would be a welcome if unexpected end to the season, although Hislop stopped short of describing it as a free hit.
Given the former Inverness, Raith and Livingston striker is of a maroon persuasion when it comes to the team he supports, he cheekily admitted he wouldn’t be too upset to see a Rangers win precede a Whitehill one. “A cup final is only a bonus if you win it,” Hislop insisted. “It’s the old cliché – nobody remembers runners up... unless you’re Hibs! I’ll be quite happy if there’s two Edinburgh teams losing over the weekend, that would be nice!
“Seriously though, reaching this stage shows progress over a short space of time for us. Seags [predecessor Grant Carnie] signed a lot of good players. We’ve tinkered with it but we’ve not changed a lot. We’ve given them self belief, because they’ve got that in them. They’ve showed in the two games against Spartans [a 5-2 league win and a 4-1 semi-final rout to reach Sunday’s showpiece] and if we can take that in to Sunday it would be a lovely end to the season. For everyone at the club – Andrew [Renwick, secretary], the tea ladies, everyone.”
On arrival Hislop cited their opponents as a benchmark for his players to aim for. Seeing them lift the Lowland League trophy at Roswell on Wednesday illustrated the quality of squad his friend Gary Jardine has meticulously built.
“They’ve not just bought the league,” Hislop acknowledged. “It’s not just been a one or two year project, they’ve done it over five, six, seven years. They’ve coached them the same way and brought in one or two extra boys and they’re proof that it can be done. I’ve known Gary and Ross [Ballantine, coach] since I was a boy playing against them and it couldn’t have happened to nicer guys.”
Despite that friendship, opposite number Jardine insists: “We both want to win. Hissy’s been a winner throughout his career and I want to win this cup to cap off the season to make it almost like a treble. Whitehill have turned it round though. I saw that on Wednesday night, they were well drilled and knew what they were doing. Having worked with Hissy doing the B licence I knew he was a fantastic coach.”
After historically winning promotion to League Two last Saturday and receiving their league winners medals in midweek, acquiring a trophy Jardine has long coveted would complete a dream eight days for the Meadowbank club. “It could make it brilliant week,” said the City boss. “This is a trophy we’ve come close to winning on a few occasions and it’s escaped us, so we want to win it and hopefully never get the chance to win it again if we’re successful!”
Top scorer Ross Allum limped out of Wednesday’s game early but will be fit for the weekend, with only pre-booked holidays rendering one or two unavailable for Jardine’s squad.
“He came off as a wee precaution but he’ll definitely be fine,” he confirmed. “Joe Mbu’s on holiday so he’ll be a miss and Sheggz [Shuan Harrison] is away as well, but I don’t grudge anybody a holiday. They’ve earned it.”