THE prospect of being pitched straight into an Edinburgh derby holds more excitement than fear for Don Cowie, who was introduced to the uglier side of footballing rivalries while he was at Cardiff City.
There he was taken aback by the extremes of the South Wales derby, where even the safety of the players’ families could not be guaranteed.
“I played when they met in the Premier League, which was pretty intense, so I’m sure it’ll stand me in good stead.
“Having come from the Highlands, where Inverness and Ross County is a fairly mellow derby, then you get to that Wales one… it was pretty full on and when my family wanted to go to the away game and they were told they weren’t allowed to make their own way there, that was the point I realised it was a bit different. That said it all really, the fact they had to get on a bus at Cardiff and everyone had to be escorted all the way to Swansea. Every bus was. It was a conveyor belt of them going along the M4.
“I think when I heard that, that’s when I told them not to bother. I’ve got young kids so they were told it was best to watch it on TV. But they’ll be coming on Sunday.”
One of Robbie Neilson’s additions in the final few days of the January transfer window, the 32-year-old midfielder, had been wooed by a few different clubs after he had agreed to leave Wigan. The suitors, included Hearts’ Premiership rivals Aberdeen, but Cowie says that as soon as the Gorgie side made their intentions known, he claims the decision was a “no brainer”.
“Hearts are a team on the up and a chance to come back to Scotland and play for one of the big clubs in the country was a great opportunity.
“I was maybe in England but I’ve been following what was going on. The way they got promoted last year and the manner in which they went about their business with so many young players shows the club is back on the right path. And they’ve taken to the Premiership well this year so it’s exciting times. You look at the training ground, the potential redevelopment of the stadium and the way things are going on the park, it’s going the right way.”
Having come through the ups and downs of Vincent Tan’s ownership at Cardiff, Cowie can relate to some of the drama of the Vladimir Romanov era at Hearts and the fact that they have emerged as the entity they are now is a source of admiration in the Scotland international’s mind.
Hearts have openly stated that they are a side capable of lifting silverware this season. In third place in the league, looking up rather than down, they have a squad capable to matching anyone on their day. Cup draws have been unkind to them in the years since their 2012 Scottish Cup triumph and even when pitching them against a team from the lower leagues, the sporting gods have added a dash of spice. The only derby of the season,the demand for tickets oustripping supply, guaranteeing yet another sell-out crowd at Tynecastle. When it comes to the Scottish Cup, Hearts claim the bragging rights and in derbies the enjoy the better record, but in last term’s head-to-heads the results showed little between them, with one win apiece and two draws.
Cowie was given a sneak preview of some of what he will be up against this afternoon during a pre-season friendly between his then club Wigan and Alan Stubbs’ men in the summer,
“We were very impressed with them,” said Cowie. “You could see the style of football the manager was trying to play and he’s obviously added some quality since them as well. They have lost Scott Allan from then but to be able to add McGinn, Stokes, players like that, they’ve strengthened.
“It’ll be a massive game. I remember the rivalry and how much it means to everyone from watching during my time in Scotland. Both teams are going through exciting times as well with Hibs already in a cup final and the way we’re going in the league – it’s got the makings of an exciting cup tie.”