HIBERNIAN captain Liam Craig is daring to dream of achieving the ultimate redemption in the eyes of the club’s supporters by winning both the Scottish Cup and promotion back to the Premiership this season.
After yesterday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final draw handed Hibs a home tie against either Spartans or Berwick Rangers, Craig struck an optimistic note as he assessed the prospects of finally ending the Easter Road club’s notorious hoodoo in a tournament they last won in 1902.
With Dundee United and Celtic paired in the tie of the round, Hibs’ route to the final has potentially become a little less daunting. Inverness Caledonian Thistle will host Raith Rovers with the last eight line-up completed by Queen of the South’s home tie against Falkirk.
Craig believes if the famous old silverware could be lifted in tandem with a successful promotion campaign, he and his team-mates could restore reputations so badly tarnished by last season’s capitulation and relegation to the Championship.
“I’ve always said a lot of our fans will not forgive the players for what happened last year and rightly so,” said the 28-year-old midfielder.
“That’s my feeling. I don’t know if it was because I was captain or whatever, but there was no excuse for what happened. We embarrassed ourselves and let a great club down.
“We can only start winning the fans back by winning games and winning promotion as well as the Scottish Cup. Hopefully we can do both and hope they forgive us then!
“I knew someone would ask whether I’d prefer to win the Scottish Cup or get promotion. It’s really a question for the punters, because we let them down massively last year. What would they want? You want to play in the top flight, because that’s where Hibs deserve to be, but would they prefer to win the Scottish Cup after so long? I’ll be greedy and say I want both.
“Who can say we can’t win both? There is a lot of belief in the squad right now. We know we have to be at it all the time and, when we are, we have shown we are a match for anyone.
“Until we win the cup, the talk about the hoodoo is always going to be there. But we are in a great position in terms of where we are just now and the progress we are making under Alan Stubbs.
“This draw will excite the fans and give them real belief that we can get into the next round. If you see Celtic playing Dundee United, that makes it even more open. Everyone still in the competition is going to fancy their chances of going a long way.”
Craig freely admitted he was hoping world darts champion Gary Anderson, from a Hibs-supporting family in Musselburgh, would deliver a home tie against the winners of the fifth round replay between League 2 Berwick Rangers and Lowland League Spartans as he helped make the draw at Hampden.
“If you could have hand picked the draw, it would have been the one we ended up with,” added Craig. “That’s not showing any disrespect. We just didn’t want Celtic at this stage.”
For Spartans, their bid to become the first non-league team to reach the Scottish Cup quarter-finals since then Highland League club Elgin City in 1968 now has an added level of incentive with the prospect of a trip to their Edinburgh friends and neighbours.
Secretary John McCabe represented the Ainslie Park club at yesterday’s draw and admits he was slow to recognise the significance of proceedings.
“My wife came through with me today and she actually gave me a dig in the ribs after the first two ties had been drawn,” said McCabe. “I didn’t even realise it was only Hibs, Dundee United and Celtic left to come out! “If we beat Berwick down at Shielfield next Tuesday, it would be fantastic to play Hibs in the next round. I’m sure the prospect of playing at Easter Road will give our players added motivation, if any were needed.
“As a club, we have great links with Hibs. Their under-20 side play their home games at Ainslie Park and I’ll actually be on the gate on Tuesday night collecting money from the punters at their next match!
“Some of our development kids are coached at the Hibs academy as well as our own. We also have a lot of Hibs fans at the club, including Gordon Strachan who is patron of our academy. He is brilliant for us, although I’m not sure if he’d forgive us if we knocked Hibs out of the cup.”