Aaron Hughes’ Cup final advice resonates with Hearts’ John Souttar

Aaron Hughes gave his team-mates something to chew on when they gathered for a meal earlier this week.

Hearts' John Souttar was inspired by team-mate Aaron Hughes' words. Picture: SNS

The 39-year-old, who is expected to formally announce his retirement next week, won’t take to the Hampden pitch for the Scottish Cup final but, if Hearts win, he will have played his part, according to John Souttar.

Having taken a final bow at Celtic Park on Sunday, replacing Souttar with 23 minutes remaining, he joined colleagues for a meal that evening and reminded them to make the opportunity count.

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“He said: ‘Look, it’s a cup final, you have to realise how important this game is’. He’s played 650 games or whatever, a lot of them in the Premier League, but he’s never won a trophy and he said ‘I would swap a lot of those appearances for a trophy’.

“We’d gone out for food and someone said congratulations on your last appearance and he got up and said a few things and that was one of them. I took a lot from it because Aaron is someone who has done so much in the game yet he hasn’t won a thing. He stressed not to let it bypass us.

“He told us it’s a massive chance for us that we need to grasp with both hands. He said we need to do everything we can to win because sometimes you don’t get as many chances as you think.”

Focusing minds is one example of the influence the 112-times capped Northern Ireland international exerts, and Souttar added: “He’s massive. You might not see him on the pitch but a lot of his work goes on behind the scenes.

“He sets standards on and off the pitch. It’s been brilliant for me to learn off someone who’s achieved so much in the game. You learn off him every day and I try to take some of his values and tips and put them into my game.”

But, while there are many aspects of a 22-year professional career that Souttar would be proud to emulate, he says he does not want to end his career irked by any sense of underacheivement, insisting that cup final chances are among those he wants to 
capitalise on.

“What Aaron said struck a chord. I took a lot from him during his time at Hearts because of what he has done in the game so when he speaks you make sure you listen.

“I want to look back on as many big games as possible, win trophies.

“When I came here I wanted to be involved in these occasions and for one reason or another it hasn’t really happened over the last few years. But we have been in the semi final this year and now a final. Hopefully, this time we can cap off what has been a tough few years for the club and win the cup final, I think a lot of people at the club are due this. So, it’s important that we do the job.

“In my first season we qualified for Europe but a lot of different things have happened over the past few years and it’s been a long three years. But a lot of people at this club deserve a trophy – the owner, the gaffer, people behind the scenes.

“Where the club was just before I came [when it was in administration], it was a long way from a cup final. Back then people’s jobs were at risk. But Gogsy the kitman always talks about cup finals and it would be massive for a lot of people at Hearts to show how far the club has come in such a short space of time. It’s up to us as players now to go and do that.”

For most, the cup final will wrap up the season but Souttar is hoping to extend his involvement by turning in a performance that will force the new Scotland boss Steve Clarke to include him in his squad for the June double-header against Cyprus and Belgium.

The former Kilmarnock manager described Souttar and his Hearts defensive allies as “big lumps” in the wake of defeat to the Gorgie side in February but the centre-back is keeping his fingers crossed that the comment was not as derogatory as it might seem.

“It’s something I’ve not thought about too much because everything has been focused on this game but fingers crossed being called a ‘big lump’ by him was a compliment, or I’m in trouble!”

Winning the first of his three Scotland caps at the national stadium last September was a career highlight but, having lost 4-0 to Belgium on the night, Souttar says a Scottish Cup triumph would pip it in his list of favourite Hampden memories.

“I think it would. To be a 
Scottish Cup winner would be brilliant. The Scottish Cup final is probably the best game in the country. But you only enjoy it if you win it. It’s important that we go there and leave nothing on the pitch.”