The journey from the fifth tier of Austrian football to the Scottish Cup final has been quite an expedition for Hearts’ Peter Haring. He isn’t an emotional character, preferring to remain humble and “low-maintenance”, as manager Craig Levein puts it.
This Rapid Vienna fan has experienced the low-key side of football and risen steadily towards a potential pinnacle since moving to Edinburgh last summer.
He played part-time at school in front of one man and a Viennese dog, overcame the setback of being released by Rapid only to return there, leave again, reinvent himself in Austria’s second division and then invoke a contract clause to join Hearts.
Some of the teams on his CV include ASV Siegendorf, AKA Burgenland and ASK Baumgarten – clubs so small they don’t even have a Wikipedia profile.
His voyage has been both exhilarating and exasperating. So, when Haring steps out at Hampden Park on Saturday in front of 13 family and friends flown in from his homeland, he is utterly determined to thrive on the whole experience.
“The cup it means more over here, it means a lot. It is more important here than in Austria,” said the 25-year-old, who is fit for the final after a month out injured. “I wasn’t surprised with that because when you grow up as a football fan and watch the English leagues, you see what the cup means in Britain. It’s nice to experience that.
“I played for the academy team in my village when I was growing up. I went to Rapid Vienna when I was 14 but left after six months. There was a moment when I was not 100 per cent professional any more but I always enjoyed football.
“I was going to school and living at home at the time. Thankfully, I have good parents who supported me in every way they could. It was normal that when I had time off during the summer I did some student jobs.
“I had quite a journey to come back to professional football. When I returned to Rapid Vienna, I maybe enjoyed it even more. Previous to that I played in the fourth and fifth Austrian leagues. I have had quite a journey but I enjoyed it all the better.”
This is his first cup final experience to speak of. Prior to leaving the Austrian second division club SV Ried for Hearts last summer, he had never even reached a semi-final.
“I went to Rapid Vienna games when I was younger. I had an older cousin who was playing football as well and I spent a lot of time with him when I was younger. He was always a Rapid fan so I was always there with him. They have always been the club I supported.
“I haven’t made it to a lot of their finals but I can remember one final I was at with my dad. I was really young so I can’t remember what happened.”
He is soaking in every moment of this week’s build-up. It is one of the reasons he wanted to join Hearts. Haring used a clause in his contract to leave Ried last summer after they failed to get promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga. Sensing the chance to challenge for trophies and European competition, it was a straightforward choice.
“I was able to get out of my contract at Ried because we did not get promoted and there was a clause,” he said. “I knew that I might leave and I told them that. I wanted to make the next step in my career and the move to Hearts happened quickly. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what it would mean to leave Austria and play football in Scotland. I was just excited.
“Ried were fine. I had a chat with the sporting director and it was quite easy. They understood and told me it would be good for me to play in a higher league.
“I enjoy travelling but I didn’t think about Scotland too much before it happened. I was excited to move to a different country and try the football there. Looking back, I am happy with the decision I have made – not only in terms of football but also the life experience. You grow as a person and no-one can take that away from me.”
Some things take longer to adjust to than others. “Driving on the left-hand side is quite unusual,” smiled Haring. “There are still times when I walk to my car and my head is somewhere else. I get in the passenger side and think: ‘What is this?’ That still happens.”
The road to Hampden has been relatively smooth, save for the quarter-final replay needed to eliminate Championship side Partick Thistle. The reward for winning silverware at Hearts can be found in video footage of Scottish Cup wins in 1998, 2006 and 2012.
“Yeah I’ve seen all of them, I think. It’s some extra motivation when you see what happens when you win. It would be the best feeling ever.”
It would also earn him parity with compatriot Thomas Flogel. “Everyone talks about him and asks me about him because he won the trophy with Hearts. It would be amazing to do it myself.”