Isaiah Osbourne knows exactly what lifting the Scottish Cup would mean to Hibs supporters everywhere – because a man on a train told him.
The rangy midfielder was left in no doubt as to the Cup’s importance after being collared by a fan of the Easter Road club while making his way home to Birmingham in early January.
Osbourne recalled the moment it hit home just how much hurt the Hibee support have gone through over the past 110 years as they’ve anxiously awaited the Cup’s return to the east end of Edinburgh.
He said: “It was early January and I was heading back to Birmingham one Saturday night after a game. I’d just gone through the gate at Waverley Station when this Hibs fan, who had recognised me, came up and asked me to sign his match-day programme.
“He was a guy in his 50s with his son. He told me he’d been a Hibs fan all his life and although he lived in Tamworth in Staffordshire the two of them tried to get up to Edinburgh for as many matches as possible.
“We chatted away about football on the train and he told me that apart from wanting us to make sure Hibs stayed in the SPL, the one thing he really wanted was to see the club win the Cup. I have to admit I’d not fully appreciated until then that it had been so long since Hibs had done so.
“And while I knew Hibs were a big club it brought it home to me just what a large fan base it has with fans like them prepared to travel so far to games.”
Since that day the feeling that this might just be Hibs’ year has grown with each passing round as Pat Fenlon’s team, while embroiled in that desperate battle to avoid relegation, eased their way past Cowdenbeath, Kilmarnock, Ayr United and Aberdeen to set up Saturday’s epic with Capital rivals Hearts.
And it gives Hibs and their fans an opportunity to see a season which delivered so little end on a high although the Tynecastle team, as 24-year-old Osbourne agreed, go into the Hampden showdown as the favourites although the former Aston Villa star insisted Fenlon’s team have displayed signs of significant improvement in recent weeks.
And, he argued, a desire to win rather than a fear of losing the derby to end all derbies should be the driving factor for everyone in green and white.
“I’m sure if people are looking at it they’ll be saying the odds are for them to win. We haven’t won the Cup for so long, we haven’t beaten Hearts in ten games and they won all three SPL games this season.
“But something has to give, you could say we are overdue a win but, I’d say, the pressure is more on them than us.
“It’s been a strange season for us, it looked like finishing on a downer for us but if we can win the Cup it will be a fantastic ending. Football is crazy at times, you never know what is around the corner and if we win the Cup then everyone will forget where we finished in the league.”
Similarly, Osbourne contended that the weight of history won’t rest uneasily on his shoulders or those of his team-mates.
He said: “It’s going to be an emotional day for everyone concerned. There have been great Hibs teams down through the years which never won it and there will be fans at Hampden whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts and so on who haven’t seen the club lift the trophy.
“The players are just as excited and looking forward to Saturday as the fans.
“However, what we have to remember is we are playing 90 minutes of football not 110 years of history.”
Hibs boss Fenlon took his side to a plush hotel on the outskirts of Dublin to escape the cup final frenzy which is approaching fever pitch, offering them the opportunity to put the finishing touches to their preparations away from the spotlight and amid the peace and quiet of the County Fingal coast.
And, Osbourne, revealed, he took full advantage of the chance to simply “chill” between the mandatory training sessions and team meetings.
He said: “It’s not possible to blank it out because it’s such a massive game but I’ve been trying not to get too nervous before the day as you can burn up a lot of energy that way. I’ve been lying around, sleeping, listening to music but I’d have been ready to play the game any day this week.”
As with his team-mates who have been drawn from up and down Britain and across the Irish Sea, Osbourne will have his own personal fan club at Hampden.
Among them will be his brother, the Aberdeen midfield powerhouse Isaac, who has got over his disappointment of seeing the Dons fall to Hibs at the penultimate hurdle to make sure he is in the “Hibs end” to cheer on his younger sibling.
More family and friends are preparing to leave Birmingham early on Saturday morning to be there and, Osbourne revealed, he’s hoping there will be a double celebration that night with Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge, a pal from his his primary school days, travelling with the London club for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Germany.