There will be one attendee like no other at Hampden today. It boggles the mind to think of Sam Martinez at 106 years of age, going along to the national stadium to will on Hibernian as he has actively done for several decades. A timespan in which he has watched some of the greatest forward players Scotland has ever produced, all Five of them, deliver three title successes more than half a century ago, been treated to three League Cup triumphs in his post-retirement age but never, of course, witnessed Hibs hold aloft the Scottish Cup.
The club have provided their oldest supporter a ticket for the final in which they seek to end a 114-year wait for the country’s oldest silverware and, courtesy of Penicuik Taxis, he will travel to and from the decider in comfort and convenience.
None of that matters, though. What will matter to him is that his tenth Scottish Cup final – he was only four when Hibs’ hardships at the final stage of this tournament began in 1914 – provides a shining example that you can enjoy new and wonderful experiences even when your time on this earth seems like a veritable eternity. Tell that to the Leith club’s captain David Gray and his humility jousts with a heavy sense of responsibility as he seeks to offer a fitting response.
Is it [his tenth final]? Nae pressure then… He’s been at player of the year dos and I’ve met Sammy a couple of times,” Gray said. “It’s great to see someone like that who manages to follow their team and support them through thick and thin... 106 years, that’s not worth thinking about. We put pressure on ourselves to win every game. You can’t be thinking this can’t happen because it’s never happened for so long. We believe we can win. We’ve believed all season that we’re a good side who can beat anybody on our day and this game’s no different.”
The sort of thing that Gray has to say, in fact this game is different. Alan Stubbs’ men have failed in every previous challenge they have set themselves this season. The manager and his players admit with a heavy heart that they came up short in their principal aim in now being stuck in the Championship next season after being unable to keep pace with Rangers in the title race, and then being unable to hold out against Falkirk in the play-off semi-final.
Their football has been second to none when they have been at their best, but they have come off second best to major rivals in major confrontations , as the added-time winner struck against them by Ross County in the final of the League Cup all too painfully demonstrated.
It would take the hardest of hearts to disagree that the admirable efforts of Stubbs and his players this season suggests they deserve a tangible reward. Gray is blunt in his assessment of what might be deemed a romantic notion. It isn’t unthinkable they will end up with nothing to show for a pretty remarkable season.
“I think it’s more having not been promoted which was the main objective, we’ve now got the chance to end the season on a high and it’s important we try to do that, so that’s the main motivation for us as players,” he said. “We’ve had a real good season but we need to make sure we end it on a high, go away for the summer and come back the season after having a successful season. You’ve not done anything until you actually achieve something. So it’s good enough to put yourself in these positions, but we have to make sure we finish on a high.”
The low felt by Gray in the aftermath to the late Falkirk winner last Friday proved as profound as any high at the national stadium probably could this afternoon. “I went home and stared into space for a while, but though you might go to sleep and wake up the next day still disappointed you have to quickly get it out your mind because of another massive game to come,” he said.
“If you sit about and feel sorry for yourself you win nothing. We came in Monday trained very well as we have all week and are raring to go. We’ve been playing that many games, two and three a week at some stages, and sometimes it’s important to come away and switch off from it. After a result like that I had a bit of family time with my daughter, tried to switch off as much as I could. It was always at the back of mind. But as much as I could, I switched off.”
Gray and his team-mates now need to switch on for the sake of themselves, their club, and their supporters – especially the longest of long suffering, Sam Martinez.