AS THE first-team squad toured the city in the open-top bus in May, soaking up the cheers and the sunshine, there were others basking in the reflected glow.
A bounce game was being played at Tynecastle to keep the fans who were packed into the ground entertained as they awaited the arrival of the Scottish Cup. Among those young players on the pitch that day were several of the lads who have gone from warm up act to regular starters in the top flight. This afternoon, they hope they will be the ones parading a trophy through the masses in Gorgie.
“A lot of the young boys played the bounce game at Tynecastle that Sunday and it was brilliant,” says Callum Tapping, who has gone on to make ten first-team appearances this term. “It was an eye-opener. So many fans were there and it was a good experience for us. Five or six of us who are around the first team now played that day. Myself, Fraser Mullen, Brad McKay, Jack Hamilton and Jason Holt didn’t play but he was there.
“It gave us a flavour of what to expect if we could go on and do it this weekend and to go from that to maybe play in the final would be amazing,” adds the teenage midfielder. “You never know if you are going to play or not. You want to play, but you have got to accept the gaffer’s decision for the team. Just even being close to the trophy for the photos is brilliant so to think that on Sunday we could actually win it would be unbelievable.”
It is a competition which has already given the 19-year-old a moment to treasure. He spent the first half of the season on loan at Alloa but, returning in January, his debut in the first team came as a 71st-minute sub against Celtic. The first start, though, came the following week, in the League Cup semi-final, against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road.
“It was a bit of a shock when I was given the shout for the semi-final. I was ready for it, but it was unexpected. It was a huge confidence boost for myself, knowing I had been trusted to play in a semi-final and it was a good experience and I enjoyed it.
“The manager went with a few of the young boys that day and it was good for all of us. To put all of us in at once actually helped us because when you looked around you saw familiar faces and we were all used to playing with each other because we’d played together for two seasons before coming up.”
Tapping, who was on the books at Tottenham Hotspur, says it was the hope of first-team football that encouraged him to return north, to Hearts.
“Down there it was more of a learning curve for me, learning from watching world class players training every day,” he says. “These are the games you look forward to as a youngster and when I had the chance to come back up here I saw this as a big opportunity for me. To hopefully have the chance to play in a big final at 19 is unbelievable.”
A scenario he could only have dreamed of back in May.