NORMALLY reassurance is issued by those steeped in experience. However, in the case of Hibernian’s tortured history with the Scottish Cup, it is the young who are able to offer the greatest comfort. Out of the mouth of one of the club’s babes has come a promise: “It will come.”
Jordon Forster is only 19 years old, but he performed beyond his years in the Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic on Sunday, in what was only his fourth start for the club. If anyone associated with Hibs can claim to be unburdened by history, then it is the likes of Forster, who was one of four teenagers on the pitch when the final whistle signalled a tenth successive Scottish Cup final defeat. Only three of these defeats have come in the lifetime of Forster, Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell, and only one was on their ‘watch’, though little blame could be attached to any of the recent Hibs academy graduates for this latest loss.
Forster has attempted to soothe the fears of Hibs fans, many of whom now believe more firmly than ever that their club is cursed when it comes to this particular tournament. The defender stressed that they felt ready to spear the demons on Sunday, before Gary Hooper, Anthony Stokes et al intervened.
“Of course the ‘hoodoo’ will eventually go,” said Forster. “We firmly believed we could have won it out there. In the last four or five weeks we have shown we can play football. It will come, I am sure of that. If you look at the academy, there are a lot of good youngsters coming through.”
Perhaps it is too much to expect Hibs might make it back again next year. Outwith the Old Firm, only Aberdeen have managed to reach three Scottish Cup finals in a row since 1900. Even the Hibs fans might prefer a break from the end-of-season anguish. Forster, though, is confident that he, Harris, Caldwell and Handling can use what they went through on Sunday, and come back stronger.
“We can use the experience as an advantage,” he said. “It has happened. It is disappointing and I would love to have lifted the cup, but it wasn’t to be and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” It was Forster’s centre-half partner Paul Hanlon who came under fierce critical scrutiny at the first two goals, although ’keeper Ben Williams and left-back Ryan McGivern might all have done better, as Stokes asked difficult questions of the Hibs defence with searching crosses. Still, Forster doesn’t believe it was a 3-0 game. “I think we played well in stages,” he said. “We had a couple of chances at the start of the game and we didn’t take them, whereas they took their chances.
“The first two goals were crosses into the box and we should have dealt with them a bit better. The first two goals were identical and we probably should have learned our lesson from the first goal. But that happens in football. It was hard to take, but I think we can hold our heads up high with the way we played.”
Forster was glad to be part of a better Hibs performance than last year, when he looked on from the stands as things went so awry against Hearts. Twelve months on, and he was helping direct operations on the pitch. Indeed, he could be seen at kick-off gesturing to his fellow defenders to remember to stay tight.
The defender was not told until Friday afternoon that he was starting, which is about the same time as everyone else learned the news. Manager Pat Fenlon revealed in his pre-match press conference that James McPake had failed in his bid to be fit for the final. Having deputised for the skipper in the last three league games of the season, Forster was the obvious choice to step in again. Indeed, some were of the opinion that he had done enough to claim a place on merit, with or without McPake’s injury woes.
“I didn’t know until Friday afternoon, because Jazza [McPake] was still touch and go with his injury,” said Forster. “Unfortunately, he never played, so that gave me my chance.
“He was encouraging me and speaking to me all week in the build-up,” he added. “He helped me out a lot and he is a great captain. He is a big player for the club.
“Of course I had nerves playing in front of 50,000 people at the national stadium. But as soon as the whistle went, the nerves went, as I had to focus on the game.”
After his sudden graduation to the first-team, Forster does not expect to return to the sidelines next season. He has vowed to give McPake and Hanlon a battle for their jerseys. “I think I have put a marker down this season, and I would like to think when I go back in pre-season, it is a clean slate,” he said. “Everyone has to prove themselves once again, that is what football is about. I am sure everyone will work hard – and then the manager will make decisions.”