Hearts may be going into tonight’s Edinburgh derby searching for their first win over Hibs in more than three years, but Ross Callachan certainly won’t be running out at Easter Road with any inferiority complex.
As he prepares to play in the Capital’s showpiece fixture for the first time, the 24-year-old midfielder is buoyed by an impressive personal record against the Hibees. On the 11 occasions he faced them while representing Raith Rovers over the past four seasons, he was on the losing side only four times and also tasted victory four times. Bearing in mind he was playing for a team of relatively modest status while leaving the Edinburgh side frustrated in no less than seven matches, it is easy to see why the boyhood Hearts fan is showing no sign of wariness ahead of this evening’s trip to Leith.
“I have played at Easter Road a few times with Raith Rovers and we beat them 3-2 in the Scottish Cup when Terry Butcher was manager (in February 2014),” recalls Callachan. “That was a good day for Raith, putting a big team like Hibs out of the cup. I’ve always done well personally against Hibs and hopefully I can keep that up.”
While Butcher’s team were spiralling towards relegation at the time of the aforementioned match three and a half years ago, Callachan has also held his own against the current crop of Hibs players who have led the club back towards the top end of Scottish football. The prospect of going up against Marvin Bartley, a derby specialist in recent seasons, and the Easter Road side’s highly-regarded tempo-setters, Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn, holds no fears for the Bonnyrigg boy, who could find himself cast as one of the senior players in Hearts’ midfield this evening.
“I feel like I’ve done well against those boys in the last couple of seasons,” he said. “They’ve got decent players in there and they’re strong but on a personal level I feel like I’ve done well against them. If I can keep up the level of performance I’ve shown against Hibs in the past, I’ll be happy. They are strong in the middle so we’ll need to match them in the battle first. But if we show the right fight and determination, we’ve got a good chance of winning the game.”
Callachan believes he is primed to enjoy more success against Hibs because he is now backed up by a superior group of players. “It will be better this time, playing against Hibs for Hearts,” he said. “Hibs are a bigger team than Raith so we would always set up not to get beat against them. This will be a completely different game for me entirely and, with all due respect to Raith, I am playing with better players at a better club.”
Callachan admits he is eager to get into battle tonight and live a boyhood dream. “I have always watched the derbies and thought ‘I’d love to be on the pitch’,” he said. “Hopefully I am going to be this time as it is something I have dreamed of since a young boy. I am really looking forward to it. This game was always in the back of my mind from the day I signed. We have obviously had games before this and they have been my main focus, but the derby has always been there.
“Now it’s at the front of my mind and it’s the main thing on it. I’m looking forward to it and I probably am reining myself in a wee bit. I feel you have got to have ice in your veins in derbies. I played in a few for Raith against Dunfermline and the team who was more calm and collected always came out on top. We need to be like that this time. We can’t let the occasion affect us, we have got to focus on the things we can control.
“In a derby it’s a given that you have got to fight, you have got to battle. But after that you need to get the ball down and play. The game will start off at a crazy tempo, derbies always do, but if you can win the battle you have a great chance of winning the game. We can’t get carried away, we have to keep cool heads and play from there.”
Even as an Edinburgh derby rookie, Callachan knows that his status as a Hearts supporter means there is extra expectation on his shoulders to show others how to approach the match. He is adamant, however, that his colleagues are already well aware of what is at stake and what is required to succeed. “Me being a Hearts fan, I know what it means,” he said. “But there are guys in that dressing-room who are not Hearts fans and they also know what it means. I want boys in the team who know what it means, and there are, so I’m happy with that. I’m happy with what we’ve got. The boys know what it means, they’re getting it from the fans all the time. I say bits and pieces about it, but I don’t need to say a lot. The game takes care of itself, for me.”
Needless to say, Callachan’s standout derby memory as a supporter was the 2012 Scottish Cup final in which Hearts - with his future Raith Rovers team-mate Rudi Skacel scoring twice - crushed Hibs 5-1. “That one sticks out for me because it was such a big scoreline,” he said. “I was there with my pals and a few others were also in the Hibs end unhappy. If we can get anywhere near that scoreline then I would bite your hand off for that.
“The guys that played in that game are Hearts legends. They will be remembered forever. Hopefully I can be a Hearts legend against Hibs and score a goal and help the team win. It’ll be some celebration if I score – I’ll try my best.”