REGULAR finals should be the norm for Hearts, not the exception, according to Ryan Stevenson.
The former Ayr midfielder missed out on the chance of playing in a Scottish Cup final when he left Tynecastle for Ipswich at the start of 2012 but, having returned in August, he is now in the squad for Sunday’s League Cup final against St Mirren. If Hearts win the Hampden showdown, it will be the first time they have held the two cups at the same time but, rather than stressing the unique opportunity the game presents, Stevenson believes the club should expect to be frequent contenders for trophies.
“You always think there’s a chance of getting to cup finals,” he said. “That’s why I came here in the first place. I came back for the bigger games like the derbies and the games against Celtic.
“I still think it will be hard to better last year. Beating Hibs in the final will be hard to beat but it’s another massive game and, if we can go and win back-to-back trophies, it will be a great two years for the club under the circumstances.
“I was at the game. It was a great day. When you were there, and you could sample the atmosphere, and just the way the game went, sitting watching your friends picking up a trophy, there was a part of you sitting there thinking ‘I could have been part of that’. Even today, you still sort of regret not being part of it.”
Having said that, Stevenson remains certain he made the right decision in leaving Hearts a little over a year ago. The players’ wages had been late, and, while some of them knuckled under, he thought the club could have been more open about their difficulties. Fourteen months on, those difficulties remain but Stevenson has been reassured by the improved attitude shown by the club.
“I felt at the time it was probably the right decision for me to make,” he said of his transfer to Ipswich. “All we wanted the previous year was everyone to be honest. This year we have.”
Athough certain he made a principled stance back then, Stevenson admits it came at a price, as he missed out on the single biggest Edinburgh derby in history – Hearts’ 5-1 humiliation of Hibs in the Scottish Cup final last May. “The way things were, I felt it was the right decision, but to be sitting in the stands and watching your mates on such a historic day and not be part of it. . . any footballer would have cut off their right hand to be involved in that.
“To beat your local rivals 5-1 in a Scottish Cup final probably won’t happen again. It was disappointing from that point of view. I don’t want to talk about it that much in case it falls flat on your face but, hopefully, come Sunday night I have created my own bit of history and got my own winner’s medal.
“It’s been a long road for me to try and get to a final. It’s something I’m thoroughly looking forward to and, hopefully, come Sunday afternoon I’ve got a winner’s medal.
“I’ve come back, I’ve signed a long contract and I’ve made it clear that I want to be here.
I could have gone other places, but I wanted to come back. I had a great time at Ayr. A lot of people have fond memories of me at Ayr. That’s what I want to create here as well. When I do leave here eventually, when I retire, people can say ‘he did well for the club’.
“The only way that can happen is if you win things. We’re a big enough club that we should be doing that. Going to two finals in two years is obviously good, but I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary for this club. I think Hearts should be doing that. I said that when I first came to Hearts.”
Stevenson may have no regrets about returning to Tynecastle, but he does feel sorrowful about the fact that former manager John McGlynn will not be there to share in the occasion on Sunday. “The day he came in to tell us he was leaving was one of the saddest of my career. I know how much he put into this club, how made up he was that he was going to be leading the boys out at Hampden, so for it to be taken away a couple of weeks before it happened. . . I don’t know how he must feel. He’ll be in all of our thoughts before the game and, I’m sure, after the game.”