Friday, May 18, 2012

Scottish Cup: Hibs for the cup?

Time, I think, to take Rudyard Kipling's advice about triumph and disaster and fling it in the Water of Leith.

Those two impostors are the only things up for grabs at Hampden tomorrow.

The ultimate triumph. The ultimate disaster.

An all Edinburgh Scottish Cup final. The first for 116 years. Games don't come bigger for these two clubs. They might never have a bigger game.

Good luck to any fan of either team who manages to greet victory or defeat just the same.

Less than 24 hours to go now.

I've spent the week talking about this blasted game, it's been impossible to escape, a date with destiny looming ever closer on the horizon.

The dull ache of Hibs' hopeless history in this dear old tournaments has been replaced, as the days and hours have been counted down, with a gut wrenching desire to seem them finally bloody win it.

Not, I think, a gut wrenching desire to avoid defeat nor a gut wrenching fear of defeat.

Just the thrilling thought that seeing the trophy come down Easter Road could be so close.

So close. But still so far. It's the waiting that is so agonising.

How do I feel?


A bit nervous, a bit caught up in the whirlwind that the game has created, a bit scared, a bit confident, sort of looking forward to it, sort of dreading it.

Emotional at times too, for the friends who won't be there tomorrow who would have relished every minute of this, who would have danced for joy just seeing Hibs on the cusp of something this special.

Their memory marches on.

Can Hibs win?


Yes.

That's not to say they will.

But they can.

Hearts have better players at their disposal, they've dominated this season's derbies and Hibs have failed to land a punch on them in over three years.

Hearts have a mentality in these games that is admirable. Pat Fenlon upset some by talking about them "bullying" Hibs.

An unfortunate word to use but I understand his point. In recent clashes Hearts have taken to the field with an assured self-belief, they've approached the games thinking that they will dominate. And dominate they most surely have.

There isn't any real reason to suppose that will change tomorrow. But Hibs have slowly shown some improvement, gradually developed a cohesion. A brittle recovery for sure but a recovery nonetheless.

League positions point to the story of the season. An average year for Hearts punctuated by some fine performances. An instantly forgettable season for Hibs punctuated by some genuine relegation worries.

A divergence in the SPL for sure, but less marked than the one Kilmarnock scaled in the League Cup final. Less, even, than the gap Hearts leapt in their semi final win over Celtic.

Hibs need to produce the performance of their season, they need to hope that Hearts aren't quite on their game.

But Hampden's seen upsets this year.

Anything can happen.

Who do you fear the most?


I fear a collective. Or rather a couple of collectives.

Hearts' midfield and Hibs' midfield.

If Ian Black can control the game and Rudi Skacel finds freedom to roam lazily before pouncing with lethal intent then Hibs are surely doomed.

I suspect the Hibs midfield will be Stevenson, Claros, Osbourne and Soares.

What games they need to have. Stevenson needs confidence and belief, Claros needs to show he now "gets" the Scottish game, Osbourne needs 90 minutes of concentration, Soares needs to shrug off his lapses into laziness.

Still that might not be enough, but they've at least got to make a game of it.

It's the middle of the park or bust.

Is Pat Fenlon up to the job?


A question that's cropped up from Hibs fans and from supporters of other clubs. People seem unconvinced.

I honestly don't know. He's impressed me at times and he's disappointed me at times.

As I pointed out before the semi final against Aberdeen when he came head to head with Craig Brown, Fenlon has experience of getting the job done in the closing stages of tournaments.

Transferable skills that have made the hop across the Irish Sea?

We'll need to wait and see.

I like him and I think he'll be good for Hibs in the long term.

If he pulls off a win tomorrow I would happily marry him.

How big is this game for Hibs?


Absolutely massive, insanely huge.

More than a derby because it's a Scottish Cup final. More than a Scottish Cup final because it's a derby.

A green and white crackerjack.

If Pat Fenlon has managed to play that down among the players then good on him.

But there's no point in the fans trying to do the same.

Walk around Leith tonight, chat to the fans from Australia, America, Norway, Belgium and the rest.

Spend some time in the company of Jimmy O'Rourke, Paul Kane or Lawrie Reilly.

It won't take you long to realise what a spectacle this is, what it means to so many people.

Something no living person has ever seen before.

Monumentally big.

Has fate decided this is Hibs' year?


I suppose that depends if you believe in fate.

I'd say no. Fate hasn't decided against Hibs every other year in this decades long wait either.

They've just not been good enough. Not good enough even, agonisingly, in the seasons when you might have expected them to be more than good enough.

Conversely, of course, a team that is to all intents and purposes not good enough now have a chance to show that they are, in fact, good enough on the day.

A funny game, football. But not one decided by twists of fate or a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle.

How will you feel?


I'll feel miserable sitting on the bus to Hampden. I always do.

I'll feel appreciative of being there for all of five minutes then I'll fret and worry and curse the smoking ban and try to make secret trades with those same gods of fate that I don't even believe in.

If Hibs lose?


I'll be beside myself, gutted, a pitiful shell of a man.

Then I'll recover.

I'll hear a million jokes cracked at my team's expense and I'll get the usual stick on Twitter. I'll have a few pints, sing a few songs, and the world will keep on turning.

It will be horribly impossible to forget but I'll move on.

If Hibs win?


Ah, if Hibs win...

It's difficult to know. The longing for this trophy has lasted so long, the pain caused by 110 years of misery being laid to rest against the auldest of enemies would bring such relief and such euphoria that I find it hard to even imagine the feeling.

There will be tears. They'll come in victory but not in defeat. Defeats happen and it's best to learn to cope with them.

But this could be a victory that I never thought I'd see: Hibs can make me cry at Hampden tomorrow but Hearts can't.

Tears of joy, disbelieving tears that would greet the final whistle and flow through Sunshine on Leith. They might actually flow all the way along the M8.

Sharing that moment, a moment that has been the collective will of all Hibs fan for so long, with good mates, perfect strangers and my brother.

It would be a special, special feeling.

Who'll win?


I steer clear of predictions before games like this. The more people that tell me they think Hibs will win, the less I want to hear it.

What will be will either painfully or gloriously be.

A hard game. Nervy, jittery, disjointed and frantic to begin with. It will be crucial to see who emerges from that opening period the stronger.

The bookies say Hearts are favourites. The bookies are right.

History to beat, form to beat, a better team to beat.

After 110 years Hibs were always going to have to do this the hard way.

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