Andy Driver gears up for one more tilt at Hearts glory

AS HEARTS downsize this summer, most if not all of their senior out-of-contract players are expected to be released, Andy Driver among them.

And if this does prove to be his final season at Tynecastle, the winger would like nothing better than to add a League Cup winner’s medal to the Scottish Cup medal he won last summer.

A previous generation of Hearts players knew what it was like to win multiple medals, as the club won two championships, four League Cups and a Scottish Cup in the decade from 1954. But 50 seasons have now passed since the last of those four League Cup triumphs, and it is about time, according to Driver, that the trophy returned to Tynecastle.

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“It would be amazing,” he said yesterday, as the countdown began to Saturday’s semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road. “We all had the experience of winning the Scottish Cup last year and as a footballer these are the highlights. During my time at Hearts I always wanted to win something and, at times, you don’t think it’s realistic. You get beaten in semi-finals and you think: ‘I’m never going to win anything’. But once you have won one you want more.

“We’re out of the Scottish Cup now, so our main aim is to get to the final of this cup and hopefully go on to win it and repeat the experience we had last year. And, with that in mind, we see this as a massive game and hopefully we can get the result we need.”

Since a Norrie Davidson goal won the League Cup against Kilmarnock in October 1962, Hearts have made it to only one final, losing to Rangers in 1996. They have fallen at the penultimate hurdle five times, most recently three years ago, as Driver remembers all too well.

“We got to the semi-final and played St Mirren at Fir Park. I gave the ball away and then Billy Mehmet curled one into the top corner. I have a terrible memory of that game so, going into this game, I want to wipe that. It was my first game in a long time and I remember running on the sandy pitch there and it was a long night, to say the least.

“But we’re going into this game with high hopes and hopefully we can use the experience of the semi-final and final of the Scottish Cup last year to our advantage this weekend.

“I think there’s a reason winners win things – they like the feeling. I think we’ve got to try and get that mentality and realise what we had last year and try and get there again.”

It will not be easy. Caley Thistle are second in the league and playing well, while Hearts languish in ninth place. “Well, obviously, they’re on fire just now and playing really well,” Driver continued. “And we’ve stuttered a little bit over the last couple of games. They might go in as favourites, but that goes out the window in semi-finals of cups. We played Celtic last season and they were massive favourites and we did well to get a result.

“Inverness have been fantastic. The best thing about what they’ve done is that they’ve done it by playing football, playing some really good stuff. There are a load of players there who have really shone this year, so we’ve got to be really careful, stop these guys, try to stop Inverness from playing.

“That’s testament to Inverness and the management team there, that we know we’re going into a very tough game. Hopefully we can use that as an advantage to spur us on even more. If we’re slight underdogs, that suits us fine.”

Driver was speaking on a visit with the League Cup to Aberlady Primary School in East Lothian, not far from his childhood home in Gullane. He will not have far to travel on Saturday either, as the neutral venue for the semi-final is Easter Road.

That is one factor which should work in Hearts’ favour, as, having now sold more than 10,000 tickets, they should have a support around five times greater than their rivals. “Of course it’s an advantage,” Driver agreed. “At Easter Road, you get a feeling that it’s a big game whenever you go there, so hopefully we use that to our advantage.

“The fans have been fantastic on so many fronts this year. I think it’s time that we, as players, go out at Easter Road and repay the trust they put in the club.

“We go into this game knowing that it’s vitally important. With the support we get from them, hopefully it rubs off on us and we get to Hampden again. If we manage that, then who knows what can happen in the final? It could be the same as last year.”