Four years ago tomorrow, Hibs forward Alex Harris announced his arrival, a stunning strike sparking a memorable Scottish Cup semi-final fightback.
Pat Fenlon’s side were 3-0 down at half-time to Falkirk at Hampden, a seemingly impossible situation which prompted more than a few disheartened Hibs fans to make an early start to the trek home to Edinburgh.
But a stunning strike from the then 18-year-old, making only his third start for the Capital club, prompted an astonishing finale, Leigh Griffiths narrowing the deficit even further only to miss a penalty before Eoin Doyle equalised, paving the way for Griffiths to notch the winner in extra-time.
At the time it appeared the Easter Road club were celebrating not only a second successive Scottish Cup final appearance but the emergence of yet another talented young player. Since then, though, Harris’ star has waned somewhat, that early promise unfulfilled as he enters the final few weeks of his current contract.
Many would pinpoint a broken ankle sustained in the opening game of the following season against Motherwell as being at the root of the midfielder’s problems, sidelining him for five months and by the time he was deemed fit enough again for first team action he rejoined a Hibs side which had already started that inexorable slide towards relegation.
He’d admit his confidence was badly strained during that period under Terry Butcher, although he did find early favour under his successor Alan Stubbs, only to find himself, from late August on, confined to the substitutes’ bench as the new-look Hibs side began to find its feet.
The second half of the season was spent on loan at Dundee followed by being farmed out for the whole of last season to Queen of the South, moves which, at least, offered him much-needed first team experience.
Harris returned to the Capital in the summer, only to find Stubbs gone and Neil Lennon taking his place. However, he found an immediate ally in his new manager who immediately vowed to give him his chance, although he accepted it was an opportunity he himself had to grasp.
Being part of the squad for the first leg of the Europa League match against Danish side Brondby – he came off the bench – underlined Lennon’s faith, but since then Harris has again found himself something of a peripheral figure, making sporadic appearances before apparently disappearing from sight at the end of November.
Harris, however, resurfaced, a late substitute in the weekend draw against Morton at Cappielow and even although the season is rapidly drawing to a close, the 22-year-old is anxious to play his part not only in helping Hibs clinch that elusive Championship title but steering the cup holders back to Hampden at the end of May.
Admitting he’d high hopes for this season, buoyed by those early words from Lennon, Harris revealed he’s been battling a hamstring tear for the past five months, his desperation to return to action actually working against him as his return was hampered by a couple of setbacks.
He said: “It was good to get back against Morton, it’s felt longer than it has been.
“I tore my hamstring in November and I actually thought I’d only be out for four or five weeks, not four months.”
“It was the first time I’d suffered such an injury and I had a couple of setbacks trying a bit too hard to get back.
“A few of the boys have had the same injury. We’re a close-knit group in which everyone helps everyone else, so I took their advice and was a lot more cautious because muscle injuries can go again at any time and I didn’t want an even longer lay-off.
“I had a couple of games with the development squad and now I feel really good. When I wasn’t part of the plans for their game last Thursday I had a wee idea that I might be in the squad for Morton and it was good to be back among the boys at our hotel the night before.
“It was, though, a bit of a surprise to get some time on the pitch. The only disappointment was not being able to win the match.”
After those two loan spells – Harris insists they helped immensely in taking him out of his “comfort zone” – the former Edinburgh Academy pupil is adamant his confidence has been fully restored, revealing conversations he’s had with Lennon throughout the season have reassured him.
He said: “It’s good to have a manager who is happy for me to be here, to be part of his squad.”
Lennon again expressed his hopes for Harris following his ten-minute cameo in Greenock, although he once more emphasised the youngster’s future is very much in his own hands while revealing he’s intent on doing everything he can to help him realise his potential.
The Hibs boss said: “We think very highly of Alex, we have all seen his talent but he has to take that in to the first time.
“Stubbsy probably said it and Terry Butcher before him. It’s down to Alex. We feel he is capable of doing some really good things in the game but there’s something at the minute that’s holding him back and I need to tap into that.”
Time may be of the essence for Harris, just one of 17 players who is either out of contract at the end of the season or has a loan deal about to expire, but the player insisted he’s determined to do all he can over the course of Hibs last four league games and, of course, that Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen a week on Saturday.
He said: “I haven’t played a lot of football for the first team this season, but hopefully I can do that between now and the end of the season.
“Hibs are my club and I want to play whatever part I can in helping us win the title and get back into the Premiership. We’ve had a few draws in recent weeks, but the other teams haven’t picked up too many points either, which has left it very much in our own hands.
“It’s been frustrating that we’ve not wrapped it up before now, but we’ve got the chance to do it in front of our own fans, possibly against Queen of the South this weekend or Raith Rovers later in the month.”
Between those matches is that Hampden encounter with the Dons and Harris admitted he’d love to be back where it all began for him.
He said: “You grow up hoping Hibs will win the cup and it was fantastic we did it last season. Now we have the chance to hopefully hold onto it. We’re looking forward to the semi-final and obviously I’ll be hoping to play a part in it, but we have to focus on the league and Saturday’s match with Queen of the South, that’s the biggest game at the moment.”