As we count down the hours until the biggest-ever Edinburgh derby, the excitement and anticipation of the fans of both teams will continue to grow to unprecedented levels. Each manager will have his own plans for preparing his team – both physically and mentally. Hibs have their own simple incentive – to end their 110 year Cup hoodoo in the season where they have already achieved their goal of avoiding relegation. Hibs will see this as the ideal opportunity to avenge the general derby dominance by Hearts in a way that they can brag about forever more, even in the face of further Hearts SPL domination. Despite being one their poorest squads in living memory, the current Hibs players would ironically assume legendary status at Easter Road by winning this one match.
It could be argued that Hearts have less of an incentive – a Europa League qualifier already assured through 5th place.
But this is a Cup Final – and an Edinburgh derby too – no incentives should be needed, beyond the natural ambitions of the players.
Thousands of professional footballers in the UK never get anywhere near a major Cup Final in their careers. For players outside of the Old Firm, reaching a Scottish Cup Final could literally be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Legendary players such as Tommy Walker and Alex Massie never experienced it. Of those who did, we remember seeing great Hearts men such as Jim Cruickshank, Donald Ford, Craig Levein, Gary Mackay, John Colquhoun – all of them unable to bask in the glory of having won the ultimate prize in a Hampden Cup Final.
So let every current Hearts player ponder the reality of Saturday`s occasion : “This is my chance – my day – when I resolve to rise above the ordinary and become a winner. Every disappointment, every injury, every defeat will have been worth bearing just to have this moment to shine. I resolve not to waste it. “
Over 20,000 Hearts supporters will be at Hampden on Saturday to provide a cauldron of noise and song, and there will be no doubting their ambition and incentive. Although Hibs will have similar numbers there, the loudest encouragement will come from the Hearts support – and every player on the pitch will hear the evidence of that.
Tens of thousands more Hearts supporters will watch in living rooms and bars – not just in Scotland – but around the world, willing the team towards victory.
The players should not let all this expectation become a burden in their minds, but instead let it energise and motivate them to reach the level of performance which we – and they – know they are capable of. As Rudi puts it – “These fans give me the power to play well and score goals”
Finally, I hope Gary Locke reminds the players of the strong determination to beat Hibs which drove Hearts legends such as Dave Mackay, John Cumming, John Robertson and Paul Hartley. Let`s hope that we can add Skacel, Driver, Black, Webster etc to that list after Saturday !!