IVAN SPROULE admits his Scottish Cup record is nothing to write home about.
The Irishman has played three, lost three at Hampden in that competition – and, to rub salt into his wounds, he can add a sending off in the painful 4-0 defeat to Hearts in 2006 to those dismal statistics. With that kind of history behind him, you can understand his burning desire to make this the year it finally goes right for Hibs.
Sproule – who did taste Hampden success in the League Cup final win over Kilmarnock in 2007 –will get a chance to set the record straight on Saturday when Hibs travel to Hampden for their last-four clash with Aberdeen, and you can be sure that no-one on the park will be more determined to carve out a victory for the Easter Road outfit.
The winger was part of the Hibs side which lost at the semi-final stage to Dundee United in 2005, the Tynecastle outfit a year later and then again in 2007 to Dunfermline, but he is convinced that 2012 could be the time to turn the record books around.
And Sproule, who was sent off in the game against Hearts for stamping on Saulius Mikoliunas, admits that he has more than a few wrongs to right against the Dons this weekend.
Recalling that game six years ago when a Paul Hartley hat-trick helped Hearts to a resounding victory, he said: “I remember that going into the game Garry O’Connor had just been sold and Derek Riordan was suspended, which wasn’t ideal for us. Then everything just seemed to go wrong in the game.
“We had played Rangers before and we ripped them to bits, beating them 3-0, so we had been on a bit of a high. Big Gaz had scored in that game and there was no-one more gutted than me to see him going to make his millions in Moscow and Deek sitting in the stand.
“We were just caught cold that day. Hearts were the better team and, unfortunately for me, I was young and naive and ended up losing the head and getting myself sent off near the end of the game.
“I remember sitting in the dressing room at Hampden and Gary Smith came walking in behind me and I thought that he had been subbed off, only to realise that he’d been red carded too.
“There are a few ghosts for us to put to bed. Three semi- final defeats is not the way that I would like to remember the Scottish Cup.”
Winning a place in the cup final would certainly be a good way to finish the current campaign, which has seen Hibs struggle simply to hang on to their place in the top flight.
Bizarrely, though, ensuring SPL survival and success in the national cup competition would see the players go down in the Hibs history books for all the right reasons, and Sproule admitted: “We have got a squad now who are fighting to make themselves legends. Bizarrely, despite how the season has gone so far, that is the reality of the situation.
“We could end up finishing second bottom of the table but win the Scottish Cup. Even if we make it to the cup final and Celtic make it through, you end up in Europe anyway.
“There are a lot of pluses that could still come the club’s way this season.”
The one thing you can always say about Sproule is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and it is clear that being part of a side that could bring Hibs’ Scottish Cup hoodoo to an end would mean the world to him.
It is hard not to like Sproule, who always has time for the club’s supporters and it’s not difficult to see they have so readily taken him to their hearts.
He would love nothing more than to be able to repay the support that they have given him over the years by bringing home the piece of silverware which has evaded them for so long: “It would be a big thing for me to put the club into the final of the Scottish Cup – I mean, it’s a big thing for me just to be pulling on the jersey and playing for Hibs.
“It would be massive for everyone involved because I’ve had it knocked into my head since I came to the club just how long it has been since they last won the competition.
“We all know that it is a tough ask and we respect Aberdeen and what they are capable of doing next weekend, but, for me to get the club to the final and go on to win it would be absolutely exceptional.
“But first and foremost we have got to make sure that we give a good account of ourselves in the semi. Hopefully we can get over that hurdle and it would be a great way for the Hibs fans, who have suffered so much over the last few months, to end their season.”
If his performance in the 1-1 draw with Motherwell on Sunday is anything to go by, Sproule is almost certain to start against the Dons next weekend.
He put in a man-of-the-match display at Easter Road and insisted that everyone else around about him in the team is doing their damndest to make sure Hibs stay in the Premier League this season.
You get the impression that those within the playing squad at Easter Road have been genuinely stung by the criticism that has come their way in recent months, from pundits and former professionals, and Sproule is keen to prove their doubters wrong: “We’ve given ourselves a great chance in the last few weeks. We have pulled seven points ahead of Dunfermline at the bottom of the table going into the split and everyone knows that is the most important thing for us this season, to stay up.
“We know that we have let people down this season and one message that I have got for the fans and everyone looking in from the outside is that the players don’t ever turn up for training or games and think: ‘I can’t be bothered this week.’
“It hurts everybody to see the club losing games and it hurts to see the club sitting second from bottom in the table. Even though we have picked up a few points over the last couple of weeks, we’re still not happy.
“It’s win or bust for us right now. We can’t afford to lose games and everyone is fighting hard to make sure that we don’t. We gave it a real go in the first half and everyone is fighting Hibs’ corner.
“We have taken a bit of criticism recently off one or two people. We know that we’re not out of the woods yet – there are still a lot of games to go – but hopefully that will show a few people that everyone involved with this club is fighting to keep the club in this division. The boys are all determined to go out and prove our knockers wrong.
“We picked up what I think was a good point against Motherwell on Sunday, but we don’t go home and sleep easy at night because we are still on paper the second worst team in the league.
“At the minute, though, I think we are going in the right direction and a lot of the credit for that has got to go to the gaffer and his coaching staff.”
O’Connor’s first-half goal had been the difference between the sides until ten minutes from time when Nicky Law bagged the leveller. Despite the disappointment of dropping two points, Sproule reckoned that there had been more positives to take from one game than there had been in recent months.
“I thought that we started quite brightly this time around and well deserved our lead going into the break at half-time, but Motherwell came out after the break and showed just why they are sitting third in the league right now.
“They have got a lot of pace in their side, a lot of ability and maybe we sat back a bit in the second half, but, when you’re at this stage of the season you’re fighting for every point available.
“It was a disappointed changing room, but not too disappointed because we have to realise that was an excellent point for us. Motherwell have taken a lot of points off a lot of teams so far this year so a point gained against them is a credible result.”
A good point or not, Sproule knows that there is still plenty of work to be done before he and the rest of the Hibs players can relax, and he believes that the only way to put Hibs back on track is real teamwork.
“Everyone has to roll their sleeves up and help out,” he said. “I think it shows the guts and determination that we have within the side and hopefully that will benefit us come the end of the season.
“All of the players are working twice as hard at the minute and, thankfully, it seems to be paying off because we have been picking up points here and there and they all count towards keeping us up.”