Gary Mackay: Hearts will never get a better chance to beat Celtic in a cup final

Hearts supporters can take solace from the fact our team ran Celtic close and regained a bit of pride at the end of a difficult and demoralising season. We can even be thankful that we didn’t get steamrollered the way many people had predicted in the build-up.
Arnaud Djoum and Christophe Berra cant hide their disappointment at full-time on SaturdayArnaud Djoum and Christophe Berra cant hide their disappointment at full-time on Saturday
Arnaud Djoum and Christophe Berra cant hide their disappointment at full-time on Saturday

But my overriding feeling when I look back on Saturday’s final is that we blew a huge opportunity to win the Scottish Cup. When you look at the personnel in the Celtic back five yesterday, we’ll never have a better chance to beat them in a cup final. There was no Virgil van Dijk-type, no Roy Aitken-type or no Kieran Tierney or Dedryck Boyata in that Celtic defence. That wasn’t a Celtic team to be particularly scared of and even allowing for the fact we had been in poor form, I would have liked to see us attack that defence a bit more aggressively. For me, we just didn’t do it enough.

Yes, we did well to get ourselves in front early in the second half. But, although it lifted our supporters, ultimately we didn’t kick on and turn the screw when we had them rattled. I said to friends of mine that I felt if we got the first goal we would go on and win it and I was even more confident about that when we actually got the goal and the way the game was shaping up at that stage.

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Unfortunately, I was proved completely wrong because we went on to let Celtic back into it. You just can’t gift a player of Odsonne Edouard’s quality chances the way we did and expect to get away with it. There was obviously a bit of dubiety about the penalty but the bottom line is that Zdenek Zlamal needlessly put himself in a position to concede it by coming out to try and get the ball. Then we had a misjudgement from Christophe Berra for the second one so it’s particularly disappointing that the goals came from mistakes from two players who are usually so solid for us.

The obvious positive from a Hearts perspective was the performance of young Aaron Hickey. The only way to really judge a young player is once they get into the first team and Aaron showed on Saturday he wouldn’t be out of place in the first team. It would have been a massive test for the lad mentally. And it became even more of a test late on the game when we had used all our subs and he was starting to feel the effects of a gruelling 90 minutes. But, to his credit, he had the strength to continue to the end. We couldn’t have asked for any more from the lad. Coming through that occasion will do wonders for his confidence as he tries to forge a long-term career in the game.

The way I look at it is if he had played for Celtic on Saturday, with that performance, would he have made them stronger or weaker? For me, he would have done at least as well, if not better than Jonny Hayes. He showed on Saturday that he’s got an old head on young shoulders and if he’s guided properly and he keeps his feet on the ground off the pitch, then he’s got every chance of enjoying a fruitful future. I remember the faith Alex MacDonald had in Alan McLaren as a youngster in my time as a player and, if playing a 16-year-old in a Scottish Cup final against the best team in the country is a gauge, it looks like the management have a similar level of faith in young Hickey.

The talk of the calibre of players coming through the academy seems to be the main source of encouragement within the club at present and hopefully that will all come to fruition in the coming years. But, ultimately, football is a results-driven business and we’ve fallen a good bit short this season. The cup runs gave the supporters a bit of hope and excitement but with Hearts’ current budget, and the number of players we have at the club, finishing sixth simply isn’t good enough. We lost 17 of our 38 league games over the season – only the bottom three teams lost more than us. That is a concern for me. We should be a whole lot better than that.