Hearts striker Steven MacLean is chasing Scottish Cup glory with a third different club.
The veteran was an unused substitute when Rangers defeated Dundee in the final at Hampden back in 2003 and then scored the second goal as St Johnstone defeated Dundee United 2-0 in the 2014 showpiece at Celtic Park.
Having been engulfed by the euphoria that accompanies such moments – particularly in the case of Saints’ triumph five years ago – MacLean is relishing the prospect of trying to help Hearts claim the Scottish Cup for the fourth time in just 21 years when they face treble-treble-chasing Celtic at Hampden next month.
“We have five league games and now a cup final to look forward to and hopefully we can go on and win it,” said the 36-year-old. “I was involved in a cup final with Rangers as a youngster but it’s not quite as special as when you play. The one with St Johnstone was great and when I saw the picture of that win in the semi-final programme on Saturday it gave me goosebumps.
“Hopefully we can go and win it with this group of players and create more special memories.”
MacLean savoured unbridled joy after firing Saints to their first Scottish Cup triumph and is considered a bona fide club legend as a result. He hopes the current Hearts team can experience something similar. “It was Saints’ first-ever win,” he said. “The days after that were special. Scenes! Late nights and long days! I try not to look back as you want to go and achieve again. But when I look back at those times with the boys, it was great. I did it with my mates and that’s special. I was rattling for a week afterwards! You still get people coming up to you years after the event. Look at the Hearts teams that have won cups – they have their own hall of fame dinners!”
Having got a taste of Scottish Cup glory at the very start of his career as a youngster emerging into Alex McLeish’s star-studded Rangers team, MacLean now has an unlikely chance to sample it again 16 years later and at an age when the majority of his peers have retired or dropped down the leagues.
“I was a sub in 2003 when big Amo (Lorenzo Amoruso) scored with his header to beat Dundee,” he said. “I was actually supposed to be coming on but Arthur Numan got injured and Kevin Muscat came on instead.
“That was the year that we won the league on the final day of the season and I think half the boys had been out from the Sunday to the Thursday. That’s probably why I got on the bench!
“I went up for my medal, but I feel like a bit of a fraud if I haven’t played. That’s maybe harsh, but you know what I mean. When you play it makes you feel more special. It would definitely mean more to climb the steps having played this time.
“Coming to Hearts you hope for opportunities, but finals don’t come around a lot so you have to take them when you get the chance. In a cup final it’s about what happens on the day - anything can happen.”
After starting 21 matches for Hearts before the winter break, MacLean’s only two starts this calendar year have come in the Scottish Cup ties against Auchinleck Talbot and away to Partick Thistle. He came on as a substitute midway through the second-half of Saturday’s semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at a time when Hearts were leading 1-0 lead and helped them see out a comfortable 3-0 victory. The veteran knows the fight is now on to secure a place in the starting line-up for the final against Celtic. He is hoping this motivation throughout the squad will help Hearts, currently sixth in the Premiership, leapfrog their city rivals and at least finish the campaign as Edinburgh’s top dogs. “There are 20 boys who have that in their mind now and we have to finish the league season on a high, above Hibs, and then we have a final to look forward to,” he said. “There will definitely be competition for places.”