Eoin Doyle reckons the eyes of at least one Irishman will be shining this weekend – those of Michael O’Leary, the boss of budget airline Ryanair.
For while the hype surrounding Saturday’s momentous all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final relentlessly builds towards what promises to be the derby to end all derbies, interest in the Hampden showdown with Hearts is almost as intense on the other side of the Irish Sea.
In a bid to escape the frenzy into which the Capital is being whipped as the big day draws ever closer, Hibs boss Pat Fenlon took his side to the Emerald Isle looking for a bit of peace and quiet as they put together the finishing touches to their preparations for the Scottish Cup final.
But their base on the coast just north of Dublin proved to be no hideaway as a group of excited fans turned up to watch their first training session at the home of Tolka Rovers while their Press open day attracted as many members of the Irish media as those who made the trip from this country.
They did so, understandably, because of the strong Irish presence within the Easter Road squad, Doyle, Matt Doherty and Richie Towell all hailing from the Dublin area while Roy O’Donovan hails from a bit further south, Cork. Add in first-team coach Liam O’Brien and there’s little wonder Hibs found themselves the focus of such attention. Doyle said: “Obviously the club itself has that connection to Ireland and formed before Celtic. As such there is a following for Hibs in any case.
“But a good few of the reporters who turned up had reported on us when we’d played in the League of Ireland and the fact we’re now looking to play in the Scottish Cup final has created a great deal of interest.”
The spotlight will switch from Hibs’ base at Portmarnock on the County Fingal coastline to Glasgow this weekend, prompting a mini-invasion as friends, family and fans head from Ireland to Scotland hoping to cheer Doyle and his team-mates on to a historic victory.
Revealing his own personal fan club will number 28, the former Sligo Rovers striker said: “I think all of us have quite a few coming over, probably enough to fill a couple of Ryanair flights. They’ve all got their tickets and flights booked and are looking forward to it.
“But I’m sure there would be a few empty seats going back on Sunday if we win – they’ll all want to stay for a party.”
For that to happen, of course, there is the small matter of seeing off Paulo Sergio’s side, with Doyle, a winner of the Irish Cup in the past two seasons with Sligo, conceding the statistics do stack up in Hearts’ favour, the Jambos having won all three league derbies this season, extending an unbeaten run to ten matches and one which extends back some three years.
However, the 24-year-old insisted that will all count for nothing come Saturday. He said: “In a cup final anything can happen. I’ve won the cup in Ireland being both favourites and underdogs so it doesn’t matter when it comes to the day, it all goes out of the window.
“It’s you against them and to me it’s a case of whoever wants it more on the day and I’m sure that will be us. Cup finals are sometimes not the greatest of games to watch, it’s a matter of getting through it and hoping you can nick the goal.
“What we do know is it’s going to be a massive occasion, the first all-Edinburgh derby in how long and there’s obviously the history at this club of not having won it for 110 years. We also know we could forever be part of club folklore if we do win.
“I think everyone is dreaming of scoring the winner – even Mark Brown our goalie threw his name into the hat at one point. But who scores doesn’t matter so long as we do it.”
Incredibly, Doyle is aiming to play in his fourth successive cup final and, having lost the first before going on to win two on penalty shoot-outs, he also knows it doesn’t matter how victory is achieved.
He said: “The first year I played in the final we were beaten by Sporting Fingal. I’d scored but they got two in the last six minutes.
“The next one was the very first game in the new Aviva Stadium which was something special as was the match itself. It ended 0-0 against Shamrock Rovers but we won 2-0 on penalties with our goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly saving four of their spot-kicks.
“And last November we were drawing 1-1 with Shelbourne Rovers when Ciaran came on for the last couple of minutes and then went on to save two more penalties as we won 4-1 (in the shoot-out).
“Winning on penalties didn’t belittle either of those victories in any way. I don’t care how we win, it’s the name that’s engraved on the trophy, not the way it’s won.”
Few had given Hibs any chance of finding themselves with only 90 minutes standing between them and smashing that Scottish Cup hoodoo before the competition kicked off, Pat Fenlon having replaced Colin Calderwood as manager with the sole remit of ensuring the Capital outfit survived in the SPL. And even fewer would have put money on them when Greg Stewart fired Second Division Cowdenbeath in front after only 15 seconds of their fourth round tie at Central Park.
Doyle got the second of Hibs’ three that day as they squeezed through in a five-goal thriller and netted the only goal of the game to ditch Kilmarnock, their confidence growing as they eased past Ayr United and Aberdeen to set up this weekend’s historic encounter while also ending the threat of relegation.
As Fenlon’s first signing Doyle is perhaps best placed to assess the past few months and, he believes, things are most definitely looking up at Easter Road.
He said: “I think the team has developed massively, a lot of boys have come in and a few left but we have progressed over the last month or two. It’s all starting to come together and we’ll be going into the final with a bit of confidence.
“The gaffer had been talking of making sure we stayed in the SPL, getting to the cup final has been a bonus and to win it would be a great achievement.”