With the voice of reason chuntering away in their head and a monkey on their back, Hibernian are trying to juggle the demands of two masters.
The Leith club has a history like no other when it comes to the Scottish Cup and, normally, winning the trophy and ending the now-114 year drought would take priority over all else, but this year there is the added complication of promotion and the desire to boost their status and their income by navigating a course back to the Premiership.
“There are two different ways to look at it. One is emotional and the other one is professional and I think the professional mindset would be the league and the emotional one would be the Scottish Cup. That’s probably the best way to describe it,” says manager Alan Stubbs.
And while winning the cup would serve as some consolation if they come up short in their quest to return to the top flight, it would not entirely soothe Stubbs.
“There would be success in there but it wouldn’t be the main success that we had wanted. To win a Scottish Cup, you couldn’t not consider that success, but the number one aim is the league and the priority is getting promotion. But any season you enter, if you are in with the chance of getting to two major finals and you are still in with a chance of promotion, like we are now, then it means you are doing something right. This is the crucial bit we are entering, the bit where we have done all the groundwork and now we are looking for the rewards at the very end.”
They face Dundee United in the first of this season’s semi finals, at Hampden, on Saturday. It marks a quick return to the national stadium for a team who have been chapping on the door of trophy success, with a semi-final showing there last season, and a League Cup final defeat to Ross County at the national stadium under the belts this term. Those experiences can now be turned into something positive, according to the Hibs boss,
“I dont think it can have a negative effect. The most important thing when you get to a final is that you go there and perform and we performed in the final and things just didn’t go our way. On the day I thought we were the better team but I would rather be the team that doesn’t play the best but wins because that is what matters in a final. It’s not always the best team that wins, although more often than not that gives you the better chance. I would take not performing well and winning. No-one remembers the runners up, I’m afraid.”
So hard decisions and compromises can be made, but with a massive league game looming on Tuesday, against their main rivals for second place in the Championship, Falkirk, and the trip to Glasgow following days after, midfielder Marvin Bartley is not ready to barter away either the prime seat in the promotion chase or a place in another cup final.
“I spoke to Tam [McCourt, the Hibs kit man] and he’s been here a long time, I asked him would he’d prefer and he said promotion. Promotion is a big thing but we’d obviously like them both. We’ve not won the Scottish Cup for a long time. We’re in there on two fronts at the moment and things are in our own hands. If we win all our games between now and the end of the season we go up and win the Scottish Cup,” he says. “I’m hoping for a better result [at Hampden] this time because that feeling [against Ross County] wasn’t very nice. It makes you more determined if that’s possible. I try to be determined anyway but it means you want to win even more.”
This term Hibernian have tended to shine when faced with the full glare of the media spotlight and a top flight challenger. Ross County managed to get the better of them but several others have tried and failed, including United, who could not halt the Leith club’s League Cup progress when they met at the quarter-final stage, at Easter Road.
Thoroughly commanding that night, Stubbs expects a tougher challenge at the weekend. “It is a different game and it is a semi final of the Scottish Cup, the most prestigious competition in Scotland, and I think that’s why it will be different. It’s at Hampden, we are not at home, and I have got to say that Dundee United are a stronger team from the last time we played them. They look more of a threat now.”