Graham Stack remembers the last Scottish Cup semi-final meeting between Hibs and Aberdeen well because it turned out to be his last game of an enjoyable three-year stint with the Edinburgh club.
While goals from Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths secured a 2-1 win for the Easter Road side at Hampden five years ago to set up a final against city rivals Hearts, the English goalkeeper’s recollections of the match are heavily tinged with disappointment as he was forced off by what proved to be a season-ending injury.
“It was a big occasion for me because I’d wanted to play at Hampden from the moment I arrived at Hibs,” Stack told the Evening News. “I had all my family up there and walking out at Hampden was special for me. Unfortunately, I got injured and had to come off. I had a passback and I tried to play an awkward diagonal pass, but as soon as I struck it, I felt a pop around my groin area. I tried to play through it and I got one more backpass, but I had no power in my right leg to strike it. I ended up limping off – it was sickening. I think I knew at the time I wouldn’t be fit for the final. It turned out I’d pulled my hip flexor which was a strange injury to get so late in the match because usually those sort of things happen early in a match.”
Stack was forced off in the 73rd minute with the scores locked at 1-1 after Aberdeen striker Rory Fallon had equalised with a sensational volley. “We got off to a great start when Gaz scored for us, but then Rory scored a wonder goal,” said Stack. “I was at Plymouth with him and I never knew he had that in his locker. He was a big handful of a centre-forward but I’d never seen him hit one like that before. I was in the changing room by the time Leigh scored the winner. I was buzzing for the lads afterwards but obviously deep down I was gutted for myself. I was just trying to get my head round it in the dressing room while all the lads were partying.”
At that point, Stack had no idea he had played his last game for the club. He had been told he would be offered a new contract for the following season before a dispute with manager Pat Fenlon over the carve-up of bonus payments on the eve of the final effectively ended his Hibs career. “It wasn’t great the way it ended with the manager,” he said. “I wanted to stay for another year because I loved it at Hibs. The only consolation was that my last game for the club was a semi-final victory at Hampden.”
Given what transpired in the final, Stack could be forgiven for feeling he dodged a bullet as Mark Brown took over between the sticks and was unable to prevent Hibs crashing to a humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of Hearts. The 35-year-old is adamant he doesn’t view missing out in a positive light. “Getting to that final, we didn’t really have a tough run of games,” he said. “We beat Cowdenbeath, Kilmarnock, Ayr and then Aberdeen, who weren’t doing very well either. At that time, it wasn’t a particularly tough run, but it was a shame to get all the way to the final and then not play in it.
“I don’t look on it as dodging a bullet, no chance. I wanted to play against Hearts at Hampden and beat them. I’m not saying it would have been different if I’d played but it’s one of those games you’re just desperate to play in. There was so much up for grabs for the Hibs players. To beat Hearts at Hampden to win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 100-odd years, you want to be in that game and be the hero. I didn’t for a second think after Hibs got beat ‘it’s a good job I didn’t play in that one’. I was desperate to play.”
Hibs and Aberdeen were in the bottom six of Scotland’s top flight and when they met in the 2012 semi-final. Both teams are in far better fettle going into this weekend’s showdown, with the Hibees defending the Scottish Cup and having won promotion last weekend, while the Dons are riding high in the Premiership. “Hibs have got a stronger team now than what we had,” Stack, currently at Eastleigh, admitted. “They’re definitely in a better position now than we were. They’ve got a better manager and a better group of players than we had. But in saying that, you could say exactly the same about Aberdeen. It’s a complete contrast to where the two teams were before. Hibs have just got promoted and are buzzing and Aberdeen have had a cracking season and have probably done as well as anyone could have asked for this season.
“It’s got the makings of a cracker. It’ll be a tough game for Hibs because they’ll be underdogs but it’s a one-off game and all it takes is a bit of magic – which I think Hibs have got in that team – to get them to the final. After winning it last year, it would be incredible for them just to get to the final again. That would mean they’ve been in four out of six finals which would be some return for a club that hadn’t won it for so many years.”