All of 22 years have passed since a Tynecastle side played twice and won twice in Leith in the same campaign. In season 1996/97, Hearts managed a 3-1 victory away at Hibs in September before a convincing 4-0 triumph there on New Year’s Day in Jim Duffy’s first game as Easter Road manager. Weir played in both fixtures but the second sticks out in his mind.
Locke was nearing a return from knee surgery and, as ever, was a prominent figure on derby day. With Hearts ahead through John Robertson and Hibs disadvantaged by Andy Millen’s 38th-minute red card, a chance to avenge the 7-0 mauling by their neighbours in 1973 had arrived.
“I can just remember Gary Locke saying: ‘This is our chance to get seven.’ That was his mindset at half-time. It was obviously a big number for Hearts,” Weir told the Evening News. “I think that’s why I remember the 4-0 game more than the 3-1.”
Hearts can make history this Sunday if they record another win at Easter Road to add to the 1-0 victory there in December. Six points from two derbies on the other side of the city is no mean feat. “I’m really surprised it’s been that long since Hearts have done it. That underlines how difficult a task it is,” said Weir.
“The teams have been relatively evenly matched in that time. There hasn’t really been too much between them. We were a really good Hearts team at the time, competing at the top of the table and in the cups. It is still difficult to go away to your biggest rivals and win twice in the same season. It’s never an easy game, regardless of how much quality you’ve got.”
There was no shortage of quality when Weir patrolled the centre of the Hearts defence. Gary Naysmith, Colin Cameron, John Robertson and Gary Mackay were mainstays in the team. Those figures ensured there was never any lack of character or confidence whenever those trademark green shirts and white sleeves came into view.
“We felt we were going to win every derby. That’s not being disrespectful to Hibs. Whether it was at Tynecastle or Easter Road, we just felt we were better than them,” said Weir. “We felt that, if we matched them and performed, we would win the game.
“There was a wee bit of arrogance about us back then, to be honest, going to Easter Road and expecting to win. It was obviously the same at Tynecastle. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance but I think it definitely helped us. Mentally, we got ahead of Hibs.”
Mentality is a key factor in such an impassioned confrontation and it is difficult to predict Hearts’ state of mind right now. They reached the Scottish Cup final ten days ago before last weekend’s home defeat by Rangers in the league. They sit sixth in the Premiership with Hibs three points above them in fifth. The clubs last met just three weeks ago, when Hibs came from behind to win 2-1 at Tynecastle.
“I know there have been rumblings and people aren’t entirely happy,” said Weir. “I’ve been up a couple of times to see the games. The Scottish Cup run is what’s kept people on board and kept them excited. It keeps the season going to the end and the derby games help that. They always add something. The fans perk up when those games come round. Hibs won the last one so it’s important Hearts respond to that.
“You’ve got to play well but you have to win the battle, too. In every derby game I’ve played in, there has been an element of both. You have to stand up for yourself and win the fight, and you also need to play well. To win derbies, you have to do both. The mental side is important. You need to understand what the game means to the club and the fans, then show you’re aware of that on the pitch.”
The euphoria of December’s victory was heightened by the fact it was Hearts’ first at Easter Road since April 2014. “The fact Hearts’ players have gone there and won already will help. They know it’s possible,” remarked Weir.
“On the other side, Hibs have a new manager whose only experience of playing Hearts is winning a few weeks back. That will be fresh in his mind. He will be liking these games and feeling his team can win them, so it will be really interesting. Both teams have positive experiences against the other fairly recently.
“We played against Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley side when I coached at Nottingham Forest. They were a really good team. They weren’t necessarily full of big names but they had a great work ethic and were competing in the English Championship as a relatively small club. His reputation was good and he has had a really strong start at Hibs.
“The next stage is getting his players in. Hearts are further down the line in that regard because you would say it is now Craig Levein’s team there. I’m sure Hibs will look to change some players over the summer.”
Weir will look on from afar at events in Scotland’s capital this weekend. After four years assisting Mark Warburton at Brentford, Rangers and Forest, he is now pathway development manager at English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion. His primary remit is managing young players loaned out to teams in England, Belgium, Italy, Germany and even Argentina.
“We have about 20 players to look after all over the world. I travel a lot with that, setting up loans, negotiating them and managing them. I really enjoy it. It’s a big role at a good club. The big thing for Brighton is making sure they stay in the Premier League but this role is a bit different for me.
“I’d become a wee bit disillusioned with coaching and how things had worked out. I liked the thought of going to work for a stable club in a role with a lot of the responsibilities I enjoyed as a coach. I have a chance to help younger players develop and try to become Premier League players.
“You don’t necessarily have the highs and lows you get with coaching, but you put pressure on yourself to get these kids to where we want them to be by helping them. It’s a different kind of pressure. You have to perform and achieve by trying to get them to perform and achieve.”