Not long after the last time David Gray played at Hampden, he was spirited away to Manchester United and what seemed the big time.
Only since he returned to Scotland with Hibernian two summers ago, though, does the Leith club’s captain think he has performed in occasions of that spirit.
None has been of the magnitude of tomorrow’s League Cup final against Ross County. It is first time that 27-year-old Gray – who missed Hibs’ Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Falkirk a year ago – will have the chance to stride the hallowed turf since he was a 15-year-old Hearts youngster impressing for Scotland in a Victory Shield draw against England.
“Being down south I have never had the chance to get back to Hampden. So this final is a massive positive for me,” said Gray, farmed out to Royal Antwerp, Crewe and Plymouth when on the United books, before permanent spells with Preston, Stevenage and Burton Albion followed. “I didn’t think because I was at United I would play finals and such. I was always quite humble and I’ve always had the mentality that you don’t get anything unless you work hard.
“You train as hard as you can every day and you play as hard as you can. Being around a successful club like that made it harder to get up a level, so going out on loan to get experience, I was involved in some big games, like play-offs.
“But the bigger games I’ve been involved in have been since I came back up the road – this season especially. I’ve been involved in four of five really big ones. The derbies this year have been great and growing up in Edinburgh, the derbies were always the big thing, so playing in one for the first time when I came back up was brilliant.”
Gray does acknowledge he was initially left to wonder what sort of chance had gone for him with his absence from the last-four defeat by Falkirk last April. A sense of loss, though, quickly gave way to optimism. “At the same time I was saying to myself the bigger picture is we have only been back up [and running] a year, we are only starting to put a really good squad together.
“I knew straight away at the start of the season with the recruitment going on and the backing from the club we would have a great chance of doing well again this season. So that has been the aim, to try and do as well as we can. It has been successful so far. But getting to the final is one thing, now we need to make sure we go on and finish the job.”
Gray doesn’t care to conjure up images in his mind of what holding the League Cup trophy aloft in front of jubilant green-and-white bedecked legions could look like. “Obviously it would be a dream come true and it’s something I would love to do,” he said. “At the same time I try my best to keep my feet on the ground and concentrate and work on the things we know we need to do to make sure that’s a possibility.”
Featured heavily on the walls of the club’s East Mains training ground are pictures of the 2007 League Cup win; the club’s last silverware success. The thought of wall space being cleared for tomorrow’s trip to Hampden, or a Scottish Cup triumph that remains possible with the quarter-final replay at Inverness to come in midweek, certainly does enthuse Gray.
“[Pictures on the wall], that’s what it’s all about, it’s an opportunity for this squad and everyone involved to write their name in the history books, that’s something that can never be taken away once you’ve done that.”
Gray gives the impression he would be little fussed were claiming the League Cup unlikely to provide memories of madcap celebration, with no time to pause before a crucial Scottish Cup encounter in the Highlands.
“We won’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” the full-back said. “We need to make sure that we put in a good performance and give ourselves an opportunity to win it. If we do manage to do that, it will be straight onto the next one and that’s Inverness on Wednesday.
“There will be plenty of time in June to enjoy ourselves if we have been successful, or cry if we’ve not.”