Hearts talisman Peter Haring opens up on Hampden return, current fitness state and life in Edinburgh
Saturday is bound to be an emotional day for all involved in the Hearts v Hibs Scottish Cup semi-final, but if Peter Haring steps onto the pitch, he is entitled to feel it more than most.
The Jambos’ powerhouse midfielder played for the club in the 2019 final against Celtic, on the field for 81 minutes before finally succumbing to a persistent groin injury. It took him 16 long months to return to action.
At times, there were fears Haring might never play again as he tried to get to the root of the problem. Operations, specialists, rest. You name it, the 27-year-old tried it. It was tough for him, even miserable at times. But now, approaching full fitness after such a lengthy time on the sidelines, Haring is raring to go again.
His comeback match was against Inverness earlier in the month, when he came on for eight minutes. His first start since that gut-wrenching 2-1 Hampden loss to Celtic arrived a week later against Raith Rovers, when he captained the team and played the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 win. Only appearances from the bench have come thereafter, but manager Robbie Neilson is clearly easing him back in. He is a key man for the Hearts boss.
Neilson may be tempted to start Haring against a more dangerous opponent in Hibs. He adds so much to the Hearts midfield. If the Austrian does play, he won’t have negative thoughts of previous visits to Hampden. He classes his last visit there as one of the highlights of his career.
"Zero regrets, absolutely,” says Haring when asked, in an exclusive interview with the Evening News, if he wishes he hadn’t played in that final. “I was talking to our gaffer at that time, Craig Levein, quite a lot and I even wanted to play the week before when we played Celtic in the league. I was desperate to play that game, but he said no, you're only playing the cup final which was probably a good decision from him. But I've got absolutely zero regrets – it's one of my best memories I've got in my football career so far.
“I didn’t obviously think it would take this long to come back. Even when I was injured, I always thought, 'it can't take much longer', and it always did, so you never know what is going to happen, but overall I've got really good memories about Hampden. Even though we lost the final, it's still a great memory in my head. It was a good game from us as well, against Celtic. It's the third time for me going to Hampden, it will be very different because of the circumstances. It's going to be a totally different game again and it's going to be a derby in the cup semi. so there's nothing better than that really."
Current state and his ‘big moment’
Hearts fans can take comfort from the fact that Haring feels back to near peak condition. His journey has been arduous, exacerbated by the club’s poor form coinciding with his injury. It is easy to make a case for Hearts still being a Premiership club had they been able to call upon him last season, such is his impact on the team. He will be pivotal to their push for promotion back to the Premiership but, also, their quest to make back-to-back Scottish Cup finals.
"I'm very well, feeling better every week, really,” says Haring. “Going into every game, I feel better – not that I didn't feel alright a few weeks ago, I just feel that my body gets used to playing football quicker. I don't have to warm up that much any more to keep myself going, so that makes it easier for me."
How huge was it to get through 90 minutes against Raith? "Yeah, it was a big moment,” he replies. “The day after I was really tired! We didn't plan it for me to play 90 minutes but it happened and I'm happy about it, so I could tick it off my list. It was definitely something my body had to cope with, but it did really well and I'm good to go.”
Missus moving in and lack of fans
The likeable, studious Haring is a pleasure to talk to. He knows, with Hearts winning, he might have to bide his time for a first-team return. "We've got a deep squad and a very good squad as well,” he admits. “I knew that it was going to be tough to get back into the team but I can't force it, and I'm not going to rush it, so all I can do is train very well, work on my body as good as I can. As long as the team is winning, everything is good."
It helps that he is settled in Edinburgh, happy in his city-centre flat. "It feels home to me, especially now since my missus moved over,” he reveals. “It makes it much more easier, especially now because being alone was not easy. Beforehand, my family and mates travelled quite a lot up here, which made it easier for me to settle down. Now they obviously can't, so it helps that I'm not alone any more. I'm feeling settled and really well in Edinburgh.”
His contentment will continue should Hearts get one over on their rivals. Haring laments a lack of fans but says it is understandable, and just hopes that he can put a smile on their face in such tough times and surpass his current Hampden memories. "Definitely, that would probably be up there,” he responds when asked if beating Hibs would be a new high point. “It's a tough one to take that it will be without any supporters, but in the 90 minutes, that won't matter. We still do everything possible to make them happy at home."