Cup fever grips Turriff as Hibs come to town
Turriff United boss Ross Jack admits he faces a huge task in trying to treat Sunday's Irn-Bru Cup clash with Hibs as simply another game.
Other than call his players in a little earlier than normal on the day of the match for their pre-match meal and team talk, Jack is intent on keeping a lid on the hype surrounding what he agrees is the Highland League outfit’s biggest-ever game, one which will be televised live from The Haughs on BBC Alba.
Wednesday night’s local derby against Deveronvale – which they won 1-0 – will, he hopes, have helped keep his players’ minds off the imminent arrival of Neil Lennon and his side but when the visit of Hibs has been on everyone’s lips ever since the third-round draw was made, Jack concedes he may be fighting a losing battle.
He said: “We’ve got a cup semi-final against Cove Rangers to play next week so, when you take into account the derby as well, we’ve had big games coming at us thick and fast.
“But without a doubt, playing Hibs will be the biggest game in our club’s short history. We’ve had league clubs at The Haughs before in the Scottish Cup, but here we have the Scottish Cup holders coming to Turriff, a side which is a Premiership club in all but name and one packed with top players.
“There’s unsurprisingly been a lot of talk about it – you can’t help it. Being live on television is also great, it gives my young players the chance to go and show what they can do. They’ll be hoping to put on a good show – they don’t want to let themselves down.”
“Turra” have already defeated St Johnstone’s Under-21s and Leaue Two side Montrose in the competition, their winner on the latter occasion coming from Andrjez Kieczkowski, one of two Polish players from Aberdeen in a squad consisting primarily of locals.
The small Aberdeenshire farming town – population less than 6000 – is, conceded Jack, an awkward place to get to but, he insisted, that doesn’t deter his part-time players from making their evening training sessions. “I can’t praise them highly enough.
“Last night’s game [a 1-0 win for Turriff] was a typical derby, blood and thunder with no quarter given or asked,” said Jack, revealing that he didn’t go into that game with half-an-eye on Sunday. He said: “We are not the type of club that concentrates on one competition rather than another. We compete in them all as they come along.
“The boys trained as normal on Monday night, we had the game last night and now we are looking ahead to Sunday. We’ll try to treat it as we would any game. The boys will come in slightly earlier, have their pre-match meal and then they’ll get an extensive team talk.
“We’ll prepare for the game that way and deal with it the best way we can but you can’t ignore what the game is. It’s a bit difficult trying to keep a lid on things.
“But my boys have to remember they’ve earned the right to be in this competition with their wins against St Johnstone’s Colts – some of whom were older than a number of my players – and Montrose. But it’s a privilege for us to be in it and now we’ve enjoyed an absolutely dream draw as far as we are concerned.
“Hibs are the biggest name in the competition – they are a Premiership club in every sense of the word. You can see that with the squad they have, it’s packed with players who everyone knows. But it’s a chance for some of my young kids to go and show their wares on the big stage.”
Hibs boss Lennon has done his homework on Turriff, Jack revealing a ticket was made available for an Easter Road scout at the weekend as his side went down 1-0 to Brora Rangers, a result he felt was tough on his players.
But Jack, too, has been building his own dossier on Hibs with reports of the Capital club’s victories over St Mirren and Morton landing on his desk. He said: “I’m sure they’ll have a very thorough report on us but we’ve had someone at their last two matches while I’ve got friends who have also been there.
“Neil Lennon’s been adding new players to his squad and Hibs seem to be getting better and stronger each week – I’m aware of that. As a former striker myself I can appreciate the four goals they scored against Morton at the weekend, four good crosses into the box, four good headers and from four different players, so we know the threat they carry. We’re not kidding ourselves – cup shocks are few and far between but they do happen.
“I’ll be using that in my pre-match talk and I’m sure Neil will be well aware of the pitfalls. Hopefully every Hibs player will have an off day and we will have a ‘worldy’.”
Lennon has hinted he’ll use Sunday’s match to give a number of fringe players a run, but Jack is already well aware that top scorer Jason Cummings and midfielder John McGinn won’t be on the coach that makes the journey north as the pair are on international duty with Scotland.
Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano, however, is one already pencilled in for the journey by Lennon, who wants the goalkeeper, who had an uneventful debut against Morton, to get more game time to help him get used to Scottish football.
Adamant he doesn’t feel in the least offended by the suggestion that Lennon will probably field a side that won’t be seen most weekends, Jack said: “Cummings and McGinn being absent is a double-edged sword thing. They are obviously two big players for Hibs and it doesn’t do us any harm that they are not coming. But I’m sure our fans would love to have seen them up here.
“It’s not often we get the stars on our doorstep, but we appreciate they’ll be away having got the international call, but Hibs have plenty of players who can step in and whoever Neil selects – whether they are a youngster or vastly experienced – will know they are representing Hibs and we’ll give every player we face the greatest of respect.
“The Haughs will be a totally different environment to Easter Road, but the pitch is immaculate. We’ve got a great set-up, we’re building the infrastructure.
“We want to have a go at winning the Highland League, win the play-off and get into League Two – but we still have miles to go.
“We’ve had two good wins already in the competition and we’d love this adventure to continue. It will be a fantastic experience for our lads, but in reality it is a David v Goliath situation.”