IT MAY have culminated in a bitterly disappointing defeat in the cruellest of fashion, but Mark Oxley insists Hull City’s FA Cup adventure has whetted his appetite for knock-out success with Hibernian.
The 24-year-old has set his sights on helping to guide the Easter Road outfit past League Two minnows Berwick Rangers this afternoon and on moving one step closer to the kind of buzz that gripped parent club Hull last season.
The former England under-20 cap was recalled from a loan spell with Oldham Athletic in March, just in time to be immersed in the Tigers’ incredible see-saw semi-final victory over Sheffield United that set up a mouthwatering encounter with Arsenal in the final.
Despite not being stripped for either glamour trip to Wembley, and being hit with the sucker punch of Arsenal’s extra-time winner in May’s final, Oxley was afforded a glimpse of the cup fever he is now desperate to replicate north of the border with Hibs.
“I got called back to Hull in March last year and I wasn’t involved in the cup final, but it was all going off when I was there, so it was decent,” he said. “I went to the semi and the final and it was class. There were 80-odd thousand there and that atmosphere was brilliant.
“The result was hard to take against Arsenal in the final but it was a good experience. We were 2-0 up after eight minutes (but lost 3-2) but that’s the cup for you and it was good to be there.
“I’ve not played at Hampden before but you hear about it and the Scottish Cup is as big up here as the FA Cup is down there. So we’ll go into Sunday with our minds focused on getting into the next round.”
Oxley knows he could upset a few of his neighbours if, as expected, Hibs progress to the semi-finals this afternoon. The Yorkshireman and girlfriend Chloe, who is a student at York University, have set up home close to Berwick-upon-Tweed and are revelling in the quiet life afforded by the historic Northumberland town.
He is aware a victory for the part-time visitors would send shockwaves through the competition and plunge Hibs to a new low in the competition they have infamously not won since 1902. However, the imposing goalkeeper is hopeful he can instead slip back into his domestic idyll without any fuss after ensuring it is the capital side celebrating a coveted semi-final berth.
“I live about ten or 15 minutes away from Berwick,” he added, “and I’m loving it. I’ve got a dog and he’s out on the beaches and on the fields. It’s good.
“Sometimes I get recognised. The shopping centre isn’t far away and I’ve been asked for a few autographs. But that’s the beauty of being there. Living in town I would probably get recognised a lot more and I’m more about the quiet life. It’s a lot more slow-paced out there, near the beaches and stuff.
“Hopefully I won’t get any stick doing my shopping after this game. Hopefully I stay under the radar. But it’s all about Sunday. We’re focused on that and we’ve got to put everything into place to win the game.”
For Hibernian’s manager, Alan Stubbs, the Scottish Cup holds both life-changing and life-affirming memories from his time as a robust Celtic defender. A routine drugs test after the 1999 final defeat by Rangers picked up the testicular cancer that he subsequently battled twice before returning for a second time in the weeks building up to the 2001 final.
The 43-year-old had to make do with a place on the bench for the 3-0 victory over his current employers but the Hoops’ treble success and his own health made it an afternoon he will never forget at a venue he is desperate to return to with Hibs.
“That was a brilliant day,” he said. “I was on the bench because I was just coming back from my cancer. But it was a brilliant occasion to win the treble and for me to come through everything. With what I’d been through, for me to have even been on the bench was a success in itself.
“That will always live with me. Nobody can ever take that away from me. It would be nice to go back there. It’s been 14 years now – it seems like a long time ago.
“We have to be positive against Berwick. We have to take the game by the scruff of the neck and do what we’re good at. Hopefully, by doing that, we’ll put ourselves in a strong position to come through the tie.”
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