SCOTT Brown rates his chances of playing in next month’s Scottish Cup Final as better than even money. He knows the odds on his former club Hibs preventing him from lifting the trophy as Celtic captain at Hampden on 26 May are considerably higher.
Brown, currently recovering from abductor muscle surgery, is well acquainted with the unique agony of Hibs’ longing to end a Scottish Cup hoodoo which will stretch into a 112th year if they fail in their latest attempt next month.
His sympathies for the Easter Road club and their supporters will be suspended when he hopes he will be channelling his midfield dynamism into Celtic’s bid to win the domestic league and cup double for the first time in six years.
But Brown makes no attempt to disguise his continuing fondness for Hibs. He went to Hampden as a well-wisher last year, only to share in the misery of their humiliating 5-1 final defeat against Hearts. That is why this year’s Hampden showpiece will have added significance for the 27-year-old, especially with the prospect of locking horns with his former Hibs team-mate and still close friend Kevin Thomson.
“There is definitely extra motivation for me to play in the final against Hibs,” says Brown. “It will be a hard one for Hibs, it always is after 100 and however many years it is without winning the cup.
“I went to the final last year and it was a hard one to take. But this year I’ll hopefully be there playing against them and, hopefully, it will be me who is celebrating a victory over them.
“I was speaking to Thommo the other day about it. We always had great battles when he was playing for Rangers against Celtic and we are both looking forward to the final. He was asking if I’d be fit for it and I asked how he was feeling.
“It’s good that he is back playing again and doing it at Hibs. He is doing the club a turn, coming back and not getting paid for playing. It is going to help them. He is a big Hibs fan, so getting to the cup final will mean a lot to him. It shows you how much the club means to him.
“He has always kept in touch with Rod Petrie, they are good pals. It shows you that Hibs is a family club.”
Brown experienced his own Scottish Cup frustration at Hibs, playing in two losing semi-finals against Dundee United in 2005 and Dunfermline in 2007. Since moving to Celtic, he has managed to get his hands on the famous old trophy once, as skipper in the 2011 final victory over Motherwell.
“You used to get reminded of the 1902 thing all the time when you were at Hibs,” added Brown. “The Hearts fans never let you forget it. All you would hear from them is how they had won it loads of times in that period. It’s obviously the trophy Hibs really need to win, but I just hope it’s not this year.”
Brown has not played since 12 February, having finally given in and had surgery after an injury-troubled first half of the campaign. But he is positive about his prospects of being back in time for the Scottish Cup final, as well as Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb on 7 June.
“The rehab is going really well,” he said. “I had the op four weeks ago and I’m feeling quite good. I’m back running in straight lines in training but the next couple of weeks are going to be huge to see whether I can make the cup final or not.
“Hopefully my chances will be better than 50-50 but we’ll see over the next couple of weeks when I start doing some ball work and changing direction to see if everything’s all right.
“All being well, I’ll be able to join in with the other lads for bits and bobs in training, while taking it slowly. Next week is probably key, though. I should know by the end of next week if I’m going to be okay in time for the final.
“It’s good that I’ve got a target. There’s no point in pushing myself for a meaningless game but I’ve got a cup final which is obviously a huge game for us.”
With Victor Wanyama and Beram Kayal both ruled out of the final through suspension after picking up cautions in the 4-3 extra-time semi-final win over Dundee United at Hampden last Sunday, the return of Brown would provide Celtic manager Neil Lennon with a significant boost as he assesses his midfield options. Brown added: “Victor and Beram are big misses for us.
“It’s a shame for them, because the cup final is going to be a great day. They have nothing else to play for now this season. But hopefully the lads can do it for them on the day.
“It is a nightmare missing out on the big games as a player. It has happened to me this season as well, especially the 2-1 win over Barcelona at Celtic Park in the Champions League. I was sick the night before and could hardly get out of my bed the next day.
“You would love to play in every big game but sometimes your body says ‘No’.
“My latest injury isn’t connected to the previous one. I knew I needed the operation but I was just trying to play as often as possible. The gaffer played me against Juventus in February in the last 16 of the Champions League and I kind of realised then that was the end of me. The gaffer said himself that I should go for the op.
“I waited a couple of weeks for the inflammation to go away, then had the op.
“I’m feeling good now, there is no pain there. The surgeon said everything had gone as well as possible. I guess that’s good news but I won’t really know until I go out on the field, play 90 minutes, change direction and take some hits.
“My two aims now are to play in the cup final and then get back in the Scotland squad for Croatia. But, if I can’t make the cup final, I won’t be making it for Scotland.”