Why Lewis Stevenson is no longer haunted by Hibs ghosts
Lewis Stevenson sounds like he is discussing an exorcism rather than one of the biggest days of his career.
As Hibs bring their league season to a conclusion against Celtic today with third place already secured, the two-time cup winner is looking back on the latest of those achievements, the 2016 Scottish Cup triumph, and describing the impact that victory had on him and the stand-out moment.
“It was probably just that final whistle going and the feeling of sheer relief. It felt like the demons were exiting my body!”
A trophy that had eluded the Leith club for well over a century, feeding talk of hoodoos and jinxes, there had been 10 fruitless finals between the 1902 success and the eventual victory five years ago. There had also been 18 semi-finals and a dozen quarter-finals, which spoke to their ability to travel deep into the competition but amplified their inability to get over the line.
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They managed it in the League Cup and some of their more exalted teams had even won leagues but their Scottish Cup drought took its toll on players, like Stevenson, who endured the annual ache as pressure weighed heavy on the Easter Road side’s shoulders.
“This year I will definitely try to enjoy the experience more and try to take more in because sheer nerves consumed me last time and I probably didn’t manage to enjoy it as much as I should have.”
That year they had promised so much, but losing the League Cup final and the Premiership play-offs increased the pressure.
This time, while semi-final slips threatened to do the same, Hibs’ performance midweek which was resolute, streetwise and effective gave them their first top three finish in 16 years and their best tally of league away wins ever to disperse doubts and give them a solid platform on which to build a fitting end to their season.
“Getting over the line and finishing third is a big boost and maybe it is a boost we needed because the confidence is back up,” said Stevenson. “St Johnstone are going to be confident because they have done well against us this season but we hope it will go in our favour and we believe we can win. It will be a tough game because both teams know each other so well. It will be a good spectacle and an interesting one.”
Since making his first team debut in 2005, managers have come and gone as have countless challengers to his left-back berth but Stevenson survived them all to become a mainstay of the side and a fans’ favourite among those who appreciated his loyalty and humility as well as his determination to give his all, even in trying times.
This season, though, he has had to play more of a support role. There have still been 26 appearances but half of them have been from the subs bench as Young Player of the Year Josh Doig proved a force to be reckoned with on the left side of defence.
“He’s got everything. I know there have been comparisons to Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson and to be 18 and play that many games is remarkable.
“What I’ve noticed since the start of the season is how much he has improved. There have maybe been times where he has not put in an eye-catching performance. But defensively he has come on leaps and bounds with good, solid performances.
“It’s hard for a left-back sometimes to go in and get a run in the team but since the start of the season he has been noticed for his pure level of consistency.
“His decision making has improved so much. That’s maybe something people haven’t noticed.
“But being in that position seeing how he has come on is unbelievable.
“And even when he has not started games as well as he would have liked he doesn’t let it get to him. Within 10 minutes he has picked up and he finishes games as strong as anyone.
“That’s testament to the management and the players who have helped him. We’ll all take some credit!”
Just as fellow stalwart Darren McGregor has been quick to mentor Ryan Porteous, who he admitted deserves to start in the final, Stevenson would have no complaints if Doig got the same opportunity. Not that he is ready to stand aside completely.
Having made his 500th appearance for the club this season, he signed a deal that will give him another season at Easter Road and after some tough times the 33 year-old, who feels he is playing as well as ever, says he is enjoying this season as much as any.
“I think winning does help! The seasons when you have not been winning are generally the ones you want to forget. But the fact it is 16 years since we last finished third shows how well we have done.
“All the young boys have been unbelievable and all deserve the chance to play in the cup final. They’re the ones who have got us into this position. But, we’ve helped.
“It’s a great changing room, we all want them to do as well as they can.
“But, you obviously want to fight for it every day. I still want to play, I just think there is a way to go about it. You can be civil.
“I know what it’s like being a young boy and I want to help out as much as possible, not just on the football pitch, but with life as well. What’s happened to Josh this season can be a massive thing to deal with, especially with the spotlight having been on him. So he has been fantastic not just as a player but as a person as well. We get on really well with each other. Hopefully we can hold onto him for a wee while yet.”