‘It only hits home when I’m back home in Edinburgh’ – John Doolan reflects on five years since Hibs’ historic cup win
If you watch the highlights of the 2016 Scottish Cup final, in the aftermath of David Gray’s injury-time winner the camera cuts to a jubilant Alan Stubbs turning to embrace his right-hand man John Doolan only to see a blur hurtling past him and down the touchline to cavort in front of the Hibs fans.
That’s how much that goal, and the historic cup win, meant to a man who arrived in Edinburgh in 2014 with little knowledge of the Scottish game but left two years later a fully paid-up member of the Hibernian family for life, and it’s for that reason that he’s desperate for the current side to repeat the feat against St Johnstone tomorrow.
Doolan is now in his fourth year as first-team coach at Accrington Stanley and is enjoying life at the Crown Ground, although he admits to a tinge of disappointment that the team just missed out on a play-off spot this year.
Since the end of the season he has been enjoying some downtime with wife Suzanne, and on a recent visit to Edinburgh was unsurprisingly mobbed by Hibs fans.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the club’s historic Scottish Cup win and Doolan is only too happy to cast his mind back to May 2016.
"I remember before our first season at Hibs I was speaking to Rod Petrie, and he actually mentioned the Scottish Cup but I didn’t really think anything of it because I was focused on promotion,” he recalls.
"Then we lost to Falkirk in the semi-final after playing them off the park and that's when I became aware of everyone saying we’d ‘Hibsed it’. So I started doing some reading and thinking, ‘wow’. That’s when I realised what the cup meant to the fans.
“Ahead of the second season Rod mentioned the cup again and I said, ‘listen, we’ve only had one go at it and got to the semi-final, so let’s see what happens this year’.
"Everything started falling into place. I think it was written in the stars a bit, and we got there in the end.”
Speaking earlier this month, Gray admitted that he didn’t think he’d fully appreciate the magnitude of 2016 until after he’d finished playing. Has it sunk in for Doolan?
"I look back at the managers and top players at Easter Road who didn’t manage to win it in that 114 years… to actually do it in the end, and be the coaching staff and players to have done it is surreal.”
Doolan lost his father John to cancer on the eve of the Premiership play-off defeat by Falkirk and at the same time was supporting his brother, whose wife was unwell.
"It’s only really when I’m in Edinburgh that it hits home, but it feels like I’m back home whenever I visit. I just fell in love with the club and the city. It just grabs you.
"It’ll forever be in my heart, especially because of the people who were there and what they did for me and what I was going through with my dad and sister-in-law at the time. The club was unbelievable with me and the least I could do was help win the Scottish Cup,” Doolan says.
Making history created an unbreakable tie between the players and the backroom staff. Doolan keeps in regular touch with Andy ‘Taff’ Holden, now working for a football agency – “the Scottish Cup always comes up in our conversations” – as well as players including John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch. Martin Boyle, an unused substitute in 2016 but now one of the club’s key players, was in contact earlier this week.
Taff and Doolan were regulars in The Ormelie Tavern in Joppa during their stint in Edinburgh, and he laughs as he recalls a Hearts fan taunting them after the semi-final loss to Falkirk.
"He was singing this little song, ‘When Hibs go up to lift the Scottish Cup I’ll be deid, I’ll be deid’, so I said, ‘I’ll bring the Scottish Cup in here next year and put it on the bar’.
"I meant it a bit tongue-in-cheek but then I actually did. We won the cup and before we went back to Easter Road for the party I went past the Ormelie and the lads were all outside. I couldn’t see the Hearts fan anywhere, but they couldn’t believe I’d come past to see them. They’ve got the scarves, the flags, the booze, and they’re jumping all over me so I told them I’d be back with the cup that week.”
Speaking of bringing famous old trophies back to Edinburgh, how does the current team stand up to the heroes of 2016?
"There are some similarities; that never-say-die attitude – they never know when they’re beaten. When we were there Ryan Porteous was an up-and-coming kid on the fringes of the development team but you could see the potential in him even then and there’s clear similarities between him and Darren McGregor. He wants to win, he’s Hibs through and through.”
Doolan is aware of the importance of fans and while rueing the fact there will be none inside Hampden tomorrow whatever happens, he is glad – relieved, even – that the momentous victory came before the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’ll be brilliant if they can do it again so soon after the last time. I think the fans deserve it after everything in the past year,” he says, before embarking on a paean to the club’s anthem.
"Sunshine on Leith has to be one of the best songs ever, hasn't it? It just gets the goosebumps going, and reminds me of everyone and everything about the club,” he says.
"The fans singing it, and the lads singing it in 2016 with their medals round their necks was just… wow. Brilliant.
"That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Making all those people happy, putting smiles on so many faces.”