The Scottish Cup provided Craig Gordon with one of the most memorable moments of his career but, on reflection, he admits it could just as easily have been the most mortifying.
When the 2006 final at Hampden went to penalties, Gordon had the opportunity to be the hero for a Hearts side who had been held to a 1-1 draw over 120 draining minutes against Gretna.
The goalkeeper duly made what proved to be the only save of the shoot-out, keeping out Derek Townsley’s effort to give Hearts the advantage, before facing up to a kick which Gavin Skelton had to score to keep Gretna in contention.
Gordon got nowhere near Skelton’s attempt and now cringes slightly when he recounts his presumptuous reaction to the moment which won the trophy for Hearts.
“I remember hearing the ball hitting the bar and running away celebrating,” says Gordon. “At no stage did I look behind me to see if the ball had rebounded down into the goal!
“I knew he’d hit it too high, but I didn’t check and just started celebrating. I’m glad it wasn’t the underside of the bar. Instinct told me it was too high but that could have been an embarrassing moment.
“The Hearts fans filled three-quarters of the stadium that day, so I could really have run anywhere and been celebrating in front of them. I’d dived to my right, so I just kept going. Even though I didn’t touch the ball, you wouldn’t have thought so from my celebration.”
But just as he will be excused any outward show of jubilation tomorrow if he can collect a second Scottish Cup winners’ medal and help Celtic complete an undefeated domestic treble when they face Aberdeen at Hampden, so too was Gordon entitled to milk the moment 11 years ago which brought him the first major honour of his career.
“It was a great day in 2006, although it took us slightly longer to win the cup than we would have liked,” he added. “It was a difficult game. It had been a long, hard season for us at Hearts.
“We had a lot of changes, different managers but we still managed to split the Old Firm at the top of the league with not a very big squad. By the time we got to the cup final, we were kind of running on empty to try and get over the line. It took us penalty kicks to finally do it.
“You have to credit Gretna, they were really good that day. They had a really experienced team and played well in the match. They had a few chances and I remember having a few saves to make. It was a fairly even game.
“There were some really good penalties from our guys in the shootout, four out of four from the guys who stepped up. Some of them, you wouldn’t normally expect to take a penalty, like Steven Pressley and Robbie Neilson. But it was a day for big characters.
“We went into it with confidence. We had just got into the Champions League qualifiers by finishing second in the league. So I don’t think we felt under more pressure. There was certainly a bit of tiredness there at the end of the season but I don’t think there was any over-confidence. It was a very warm day and we struggled to play the way we had been playing, with real intensity and pressing. We had been blowing some teams away but by that stage of the season we were no longer able to do that.
“I’ve not been involved in too many shootouts in my career, thankfully. I remember their goal during the match came from a penalty which I saved before they scored from the rebound.
“I was confident I might be able to come up with one or two more in the shootout. I saved one and then one from Skelton hit the top of the bar which was the decisive one and meant we’d won the cup.
“It was a great night back in Edinburgh, what I can remember of it. We went back to Murrayfield Stadium, one of the suites in there, and had a good night with our families.”
The celebrations enjoyed by Gordon, his Celtic team-mates and their loved ones tomorrow night if an unprecedented undefeated domestic campaign in all competitions is completed would certainly be savoured by the 34-year-old.
“You never think you are going to do that in a career – at any level in any league,” he said. “The opportunity we have to go and do that now is enormous and it’s something that would be remembered for a very long time. But at the same time we have to concentrate on this game.
“If we start looking beyond that, at records and things that could be said in the future about this team, it won’t matter if we don’t win the game. We can’t think too far ahead. We have to stay in the moment and if we prepare as we have been doing all season, we’ll do alright when the game comes around.
“If we didn’t win the final it would take a bit of getting over, but that’s football and these things can happen. But we have an incredible opportunity to make sure that’s not the case.
“Players will make mistakes, but we have to continue to pull for each other and make sure we come out on top. Every challenge we have been set so far, we have come back from and when you start doing that you start to feel anythning is possible, no matter what happens in a game.”