The morning after their Scottish Cup semi-final triumph over Dundee United, a giant banner draped across the hedge outside the home of Darren McGregor’s mother carried the simple message: “Well done Hibs”.
This coming Sunday morning, the Easter Road defender expects there will be plenty more if he and his team-mates can end the Edinburgh club’s 114 years of cup anguish, revealing his mum Louise already has her plans in place for a very public display of the pride she has in her son.
“I think it was one of my wee brother’s bed sheets she’d hung up that morning,” laughed McGregor. “She already has a couple of banners lying in wait in the back garden so there’s no doubt they’ll be up if we win.
“My mum’s been very supportive to me. She’s been to a lot of games so I just can’t let her down.”
Few of Alan Stubbs’ players showed such open rage as 30-year-old lifelong Hibs fan McGregor as Bob McHugh’s goal for Falkirk signalled the end of their bid for promotion but, he insisted, that didn’t mean they felt the hurt any less than himself but now, he claimed, tomorrow’s Hampden showdown gives each of them the chance to redeem themselves.
While there are some who would gladly have swapped Scottish Cup glory for promotion, there are others among the Hibs support happy enough to swap another year in the Championship for the sight of the “Holy Grail” being paraded through the city centre on an open-top bus.
McGregor, though, can’t quite make up his mind, saying: “For us the priority was to get up, to get into the top flight where this club belongs. But there again, chances of winning the Scottish Cup don’t come around too often.
“We all understood what was on the line against Falkirk, so we were all hurting. We’d worked so hard and to lose it in the manner we did was devastating. We had three hours to win, we felt we had done enough to win, but we didn’t. Falkirk came up with the goods and we’ve had to resign ourselves to another year in the Championship.
“But tomorrow is a great opportunity to end the season on a massive high. I’m sure a lot of Hibs fans would see that as going a long way to redeeming ourselves.”
As someone who came into professional football later than most, playing for Arniston Rangers between two spells with Cowdenbeath before stepping up into Premiership football with St Mirren and then having a year at Ibrox only to be released by new boss Mark Warburton, paving the way for his dream move to Hibs, McGregor feels he can appreciate a day like tomorrow perhaps that little bit more than others.
It was McGregor who set Alan Stubbs’ side on the path to Hampden, stepping off the bench at Stark’s Park to score the opener in a 2-0 win against Raith Rovers, his first goal for the club and Hibs’ 1000th in the competition. The purple No.24 shirt he wore that night is, unsurprisingly, hung on mum’s wall alongside countless others but, he hopes, she’ll have room for just one more.
He said: “For so many teams to have started off in the competition and to be one of the two in the final is an achievement in it’s own right, it’s a difficult thing to do, particularly given some of the teams we knocked out on the way here.
“When you go through experiences of coming back from two goals down against Hearts at Tynecastle to draw and then win the replay, to have to go to play Inverness Caley, the holders, only days after losing the League Cup final, and then having that penalty shoot-out win over Dundee United in the semi-final it’s a run which is almost too good to be true.
“But as we know from the League Cup final you don’t get anything for second place, for us it’s about winning, looking for it to be third time lucky in winning something this season and bringing the cup home to Leith.”
The fact the final is against his old club and the manager who decided to release him will, McGregor insisted, have no bearing on the way he’ll approach the game. He said: “I know a lot of the Rangers boys, they’ve got a good team and have done well this season.
“However, it’s a case of trying to be as emotionless as possible. That’s not to say you don’t care, but in games of this magnitude you cannot get swayed by the crowd or by what someone has said or done. You have to focus on your job and to me that’s speaking to my right back, to my left centre-half, keeping the players in front of me aware of what they are doing.
“We all have responsibilities. It’s a controlled passion and if at the end of the day we have won, we can let loose. Up to that point it’s calm heads and concentrating until the final whistle.”
And having been undone by that McHugh strike 15 seconds from the end of the second leg of the promotion play-off semi-final, McGregor insisted that point had been drilled into Stubbs’ players, saying: “It’s not just the 90 minutes but the one, two or whatever might be added on at the end. We’re well aware of what has to be done, in games like this you hope everyone comes to the fore.”
Rangers have been idle since their final league game three weeks ago, Warburton’s players appearing to have taken their foot off the pedal in the matches prior to that having wrapped up the title while Hibs had those four play-off fixtures, but McGregor revealed he’s undecided as to which might be the more beneficial.
He said: “You can look at it two ways, the momentum of playing to carry you through or having that bit of rest. Rangers might appear to have been idle, but they’ll have been training and they’ve had that game against Spurs.
“We’ve maybe been a bit more intense given the games we’ve had, but I can’t remember us being over-tired going into games.
“We had a couple of days off after the Falkirk game, but we’ve refocused on our objective. We know what it would mean to everyone connected with Hibs to win the cup, we know the flip side of losing. I think it’s finely balanced, on a knife-edge. But we will be doing our utmost to bring the cup home.”