There are no words to describe what Paulo Sergio has brought to the football club. Hearts have always been considered a classy club and I think Paulo is able to reflect that class from his managerial position. He has helped guide Ian Black, who was told he wasn’t going to have his contract renewed a month ago, through a tough period. He has helped ensure Jamie MacDonald feels settled as Hearts No. 1 goalkeeper since Marian Kello was frozen out. And, of course, he’s had no end of far trickier situations to contend with.
On Saturday, I was shocked to see that David Templeton, who has been outstanding against Hibs over the past two seasons, was omitted from the squad, but after the game there can be no questions asked over the manager because everything he did was fully vindicated in the manner of the victory.
Both the wide players on Saturday did their jobs. All the hype in the build-up was about the fitness of Craig Beattie, who wasn’t fit enough to start, but I thought Stephen Elliott set the tone for victory. Some people question why I always talk Elliott up so much because he isn’t the most prolific, but lone strikers shouldn’t just be judged on goals. They should be judged on everything they bring to the team and on Saturday Elliott epitomised everything that was good about Hearts. He occupied their two centre-backs and worked tirelessly for the team.
That’s what Paulo looks for in players. He wants selfless people because he’s selfless himself. Hearts won because we had so many individuals with a real desire to work for the good of the team. The faith he has shown in them has been repaid in the best way possible.
It’s terrible to say this straight after such an incredible win, but Hearts are at a crossroads. Our owner has delivered two Scottish Cup wins and that is all credit to him. However, we are about to lose two of our most influential players in Rudi Skacel and Ian Black and there are rumours about Elliott and, more worryingly, our manager.
When people are successful, other people will show an interest if we don’t act to secure their services to continue to enhance the product that season ticket holders are buying. This has been a wonderful week, which can’t be dampened in any way, but this is a crucial week coming up in terms of where the club is heading. If all these thousands of supporters who have turned out to hail the team over the weekend were to have their way, I’m pretty sure they’d all want these players and the manager tied up as a matter of urgency.
On paper, Hearts looked the better team, but I felt it would come down to how the game started. Thankfully, Hearts started on the front foot and never looked back. Nobody got close to Black and nobody got close to our two wide players.
The persistence of the manager in cajoling and getting Andrew Driver’s confidence up over the past few months paid off handsomely on Saturday because he really stretched Hibs. Suso, whom I probably wouldn’t have started with personally, also had a really impressive game, particularly in the second half.
And who better to score the vital first goal than Darren Barr? Like Elliott, he epitomises what the manager is all about. Only five months ago, Darren could never have envisaged that he’d be an established holding midfielder scoring the first goal in a Scottish Cup final. But the manager is so good at giving players confidence and getting the best out of them and he was rewarded in the form of a nerve-settling early goal which paved the way for Saturday’s triumph.
I have genuine sympathy for Hibs. I played in a 5-1 Scottish Cup final defeat by Rangers in 1996 and it’s a real test of character to bounce back from it. I wanted it to be a day Edinburgh could really celebrate and rejoice in, and although Hearts were the only ones celebrating at the end, I thought the game was played in a fine spirit and reflected well on the people of Hibs and Hearts.
I think this past weekend will be the highlight of most Hearts supporters’ lives outwith family matters. Thank you so much to the players and to Paulo Sergio.