Eoin DOYLE today admitted he’s hoping to turn back the clock and produce a repeat of the goal which knocked Kilmarnock out of the Scottish Cup last season when Hibs face the Ayrshire outfit in Sunday’s quarter-final at Rugby Park.
Still a virtual unknown following his arrival from Irish outfit Sligo Rovers as he became manager Pat Fenlon’s first Easter Road signing, the 25-year-old followed up his first goal in a green and white shirt as under-pressure Hibs squeezed past Second Division leaders Cowdenbeath before cementing his place as a fans’ favourite with the winner against Killie.
Sadly, it all ended in tears as Fenlon’s players were crushed 5-1 by Capital rivals Hearts in the first all-Edinburgh final in 116 years, the most traumatic of defeats signalling another 12 months at least of cup misery for Hibs and their supporters.
The pain will probably never entirely leave those involved that fateful day at Hampden, but today Doyle insisted the only way to ease the hurt, at least to a degree, would be to ensure another big day out at the national stadium at the end of May.
But to do so, he acknowledged, Fenlon’s players will have to do it the hard way, Kilmarnock the third SPL side they’ll have faced in this season’s competition having gained some measure of revenge over Hearts by knocking them out before similarly disposing of Aberdeen, the club they defeated at the semi-final stage a year ago.
And on the evidence of Wednesday night’s SPL clash between Hibs and Kenny Shiels’ team when three late goals in a crazy final few minutes saw the game end in a 2-2 draw, Doyle admitted Sunday’s encounter could well be decided in the same fashion as last year’s cup showdown – by a single goal.
However, the flame-haired hitman believes that if he and his team-mates can produce the intensity they brought to the closing stages of the match two days ago then they’ll have a fair chance of booking their place in the semi-finals.
He said: “Anything can happen in the cup. It’s a massive game which we are looking forward to and if we can play with the intensity we did for the final ten minutes on Wednesday night then I’m sure we’ll get the result. If we can show that hunger and desire to win from earlier in the game then we can get ourselves into the next round.”
Much has changed, of course, since Hibs and Killie last met in the cup, Fenlon engineering a remarkable transformation in the Easter Road club’s fortunes, steering them from second bottom to second top, although they’ve found themselves a bit off the pace in recent weeks, slipping to sixth despite being unbeaten in their past three matches.
Doyle recalled: “We had a good run although the final didn’t make it at all worthwhile. But I think given what was going on in the league – we were in a bad place – it kept the season going and maybe kept the fans coming through the gates as well.”
The euphoria of securing Hibs’ SPL status in what was essentially a relegation decider against Dunfermline, Doyle scoring the second goal in a 4-0 win which consigned the Pars to First Division football, quickly evaporated in the sunshine of Hampden, but, insisted the striker, that humbling experience in no way diminishes the desire to have another bite at ending the Easter Road side’s 111-year cup hoodoo.
He said: “We turned in a great performance against Dunfermline. It was the first time I’d seen so many people in Easter Road and to be part of that experience was enjoyable. As for the final, I think I’d rather be knocked out in the first round than go through that again. It was tough for everyone, so it would be nice to get back there and maybe do things differently.
“The club’s history in the cup isn’t great, but you never know, it would be good to be part of the team that turns things around and brings the trophy home.
“But this season we are having to go about it the hard way. No disrespect to Cowdenbeath and Ayr United, but we probably had an easier run last year.
“This time we’ve had tough ties all the way but we are confident we can go to Kilmarnock, get the result and put on a performance as well.”
Shiels and his players may view that assertion as possibly carrying a little too much confidence, Killie having departed for home on Wednesday night convinced they should have taken all three points, a prize denied them as first Ryan McGivern cancelled out Sammy Clingan’s opener and then Leigh Griffiths did likewise after Jude Winchester had immediately fired his side back into the lead.
Doyle, however, argued that Hibs are an entirely different proposition this season, agreeing that a year ago they’d most likely have folded in such circumstances. He said: “There’s a bit more hunger this year. Players are fighting more for the cause and for each other. We dug in and managed to get a result, if not all three points.”
And having played a part in Griffiths’ 19th goal of the season, his shot coming off a post to land at his fellow striker’s feet, Doyle admitted he’d love to be given the chance to be reunited with the on-loan Wolves star in what was a highly productive partnership earlier in the season for Sunday’s match.
A substitute in Hibs’ last three matches, he said: “I’d like to be on from the start obviously, but the team has been doing well in the past few games, the system seems to have worked, so there are no complaints from me at the moment. It’s nice to have an impact in a game and give the gaffer a headache, but I was delighted for Leigh getting his goal. He’s on a great run of form – I just hope it continues.”
Doyle, though, admitted he wouldn’t mind a repeat of his winner from a year ago. “It was a bit jammy,” he said. “It took a couple of deflections coming to me and a couple more as it went in.” There would be no complaints from those in green and white if a winner from Doyle or any of his team-mates was to carry the same degree of luck.