SUCH are Hearts’ injury woes this season, there will be no shortage of candidates to commiserate with young Fraser Mullen, who came within one match of making a fairytale cup final appearance.
There will be no dearth of personnel who can understand how captain Marius Zaliukas will be feeling when someone else leads out the team at Hampden the way he did in May or how Danny Grainger will be dealing with bittersweet emotions as he relives the joy he experienced as he scored that day.
The physical ailments will mend but missing out on the chance to play in a cup final is a sore one that will never truly heal.
No-one is more aware of that than the man in charge of the Tynecastle side this afternoon. Everyone knows where Gary Locke’s allegiances lie. If he wasn’t on official duty today in his first game since being transformed from interim to permanent manager, he admits he would be in the stands shouting on the team he grew up supporting. He played for them and captained them but, when the Scottish Cup was lifted in 1998, he was suited and booted and hobbling about on crutches.
“Back then I was part of the squad but injured and I was really disappointed not to be part of things but this time at least I know what my job is and I’m very much looking forward to it but it will probably be the same this time. It’s always the same when you are on the sidelines. Once you put the team out, there’s not really a great deal you can do but you do kick every ball. The boys have done well in the last couple of league games, though, and hopefully they can carry that through on Sunday.”
They will have to do it with an ever-dwindling number of personnel options, with Mullen, Zaliukas and Grainger joining the likes of Jamie Hamill, Callum Paterson and Scott Robinson in the treatment room. “It has been a bit of a nightmare month for us,” says Locke. “We have lost a lot of influential players, but they have all played their part and if they are not going to be fit then it’s an opportunity for the ones that are.
“It is really tough to miss out. All these boys are going to be disappointed and I know exactly where they are coming from because I have been in that position myself, but we are very much a squad at Hearts and they will all be here on Sunday. The ones who aren’t playing, I’m sure, will be right behind the boys who are.”
But, in the same way he will feel for the players denied their dream by circumstance, he will also sympathise with fellow Jambo turned manager John McGlynn, the man who guided the team to the final only to be jettisoned before they stepped out at Hampden. He will be in the stands, and while Locke and his family will beam with pride at Hampden, adding another nugget to the collection of memories he has accumulated in his life-long relationship with the club, he will also feel a twinge of sadness that another has been denied the opportunity.
“Put it this way, I know I’m really fortunate and at the same time disappointed because John played a huge role in getting us to this final and hopefully the boys can get the right result for him.”
The pressure will be huge. “To be honest, I’ve not really had any time to think about it. I’ve just been focused on trying to get the players prepared,” Locke says. “There is obviously always pressure. Pressure on the players, pressure on ourselves, pressure from the fans because we all want to do well, we all want to win. But I’ve never really thought of it as too much pressure, though. I’m enjoying it and we will see what happens.”