There was no circumspection from Hibernian defender Ryan McGivern yesterday when it came to picking at one of the threads that will be woven into the League Cup meeting between the capital sides at Easter Road that the quarter-final draw rolled out.
“It’s a good draw for the fans and the biggest derby in Scotland at the minute, so it’s a good one for us and the fans to look forward to,” the Irishman said. “Hopefully, we can get a wee bit of revenge for the game earlier on in the season.
Taking the Tynecastle youngsters down a peg or two for their temerity in leaving their biggest rivals with a bitter taste in their mouths in early August was a natural thought to cross the minds of those with allegiances to the Leith club. The club’s manager Pat Fenlon, however, almost had a fit when it was put to him that atonement for the reverse of seven weeks ago could be a motivation. Fenlon is one Irishman who does circumspection to the nth degree. That said, his side’s recent upturn in form has allowed him to cut a far more relaxed figure than when he was being presented as a manager with no future in the weeks following the derby defeat.
Since that loss, Hibs have gone six games unbeaten. They take a three-game winning run into their trip to Inverness tomorrow and seemed to get a kick from the 5-3 win over Stranraer in the League Cup win the other night.
For McGivern, the cup draw presents an opportunity to show their ancient adversaries the real Hibs. Not the ones who didn’t look as if they were capable of standing up as the 7-0 drubbing by Malmo and the Hearts defeat scarred the early weeks of the season. “We’ve got a couple of tough games before the cup-tie so we’ll concentrate on them first, but it’s an early chance go make amends for what happened at Tynecastle,” he said. “We knew there was a chance we could get them when they went through on Wednesday night.
“It’s a good reward for ourselves as a club, for the fans and, hopefully, we’ll have another full house for a midweek game against Hearts and, hopefully, we’re able to do the job this time.
“We knew whatever team we got was going to be a tough one and they don’t come tougher than a local derby. I think we were unlucky to come away without any points from Tynecastle earlier in the season, but we had a lot of new faces and it was only the second game of the season and, if you look over the last six or seven games, the boys are starting to gel and we’re unbeaten in six. I just hope we can keep that run going and, by the time Hearts come around, we’ll be ready and looking to book a place in the semi-finals.”
As he relaxed into his chat with the Press at Easter Road yesterday, Fenlon warmed to the sense of occasion that the League Cup had thrown his club’s way.
“Someone asked me the other day: ‘How do you jazz up this tournament and get the crowds in?’ An Edinburgh derby in the quarter-final is one way to do it. There are some cracking ties, and people will think: ‘Well, if they go out then we have a real chance’. When the games do come around, people will be thinking there is a real chance to get to a final.
“There are some good teams left and I think everyone wanted a home tie, and this is a fantastic one,” he acknowledged. But it was still “only a draw”, with the Hibs manager determined that a game to be played at the end of October would not take his “focus away [from] the moment”.
It is a moment he is understandably happy to live in, as it seems, at last, he has constructed a Hibs team that can have designs on sitting near the top of the Premiership and snaring silverware.
He will have no truck with being reminded of the last meeting between the Edinburgh sides who steam in to one another for the right to a semi-final place in, arguably, the most wide-open cup competition in five decades. “People have made a lot about going to Tynecastle and getting beat – but so did Aberdeen, and I never heard a word about that,” he added.
Fenlon knows the verbiage, and the emotion, such a quarter-final will generate. It is not lost on him either that the financial returns will make him a friend of the club’s bean counters, as he has proved in recent seasons in ill-starred Scottish Cup finals..
“Getting through to a quarter-final is always two-fold. One, it adds to your winning run, and two, it gives you a real financial boost and, in relation to that, I don’t think we could have asked for a better one. It all helps, and if we can get to a semi-final then that will help even more. But we will let the supporters get on with it before then – we will concentrate on the games coming up.”
Fenlon embraced the theme of what sort of footballing experience could be created by the two teams meeting in an evening kick-off at a nearly full Easter Road. “Both sets of fans will be delighted with it and that excitement is what derby matches are all about,” he said.
“It gives us all something to look forward to. But we have to keep our good run going until then. We played at Tynecastle in midweek last year in the New Year game and it was a special, special atmosphere. The punters have a bit of time to have a pint before. The games at Easter Road in the night-time are completely different to a Saturday afternoon. Even the other night against Stranraer, that was evident.”