Edinburgh derby: Hearts and Hibs' rival fans will bring the white-hot atmosphere back to Tynecastle
But like a fire deprived of oxygen, which produces a backdraft when air is reintroduced to the environment, the heat, the passion and the rivalry of the intensely-competitive all-Edinburgh tussle was never extinguished.
Which is why, in the build up to the latest meeting between Hearts and Hibs, there is an almost uncontrollable fire burning within both camps and neither manager seems minded to douse it.
Locked on the same points tally at the top of the table, victory would grant either team the opportunity to enjoy that vantage point for at least another week, charging confidence levels, gathering momentum, and, of course, offering all associated, the bragging rights.
Last term, the delayed 2019/20 Scottish Cup semi final took the edge off cravings for a fixture that tends to come around at least three times a season in the league but no-one claimed to be fully sated. Not when the supporters were kept at a distance due to covid and the empty, cavernous Hampden proved an insipid backdrop compared to a full and raucous Tynecastle or Easter Road.
So, it is perhaps unsurprising that neither manager can hide their delight ahead of Sunday’s meeting in Gorgie.
It is 18 months since they last battled over points and pride in front of fans, and both clubs have come a long way since then, simply adding to both Robbie Neilson and Jack Ross’ zeal.
In their words and their body language, there is no playing down the significance of the game. Instead both men appear to be heading into this one with the firm belief that their players can deliver rather than a simple hope that they can.
There is a twinkle in their eyes as they talk about what it means and, mercifully, they both accept that it is more than just three points.
Rather than put their guard up, they prefer to bob and weave, throwing a few mental jabs and mind games.
In understanding the rivalry, the need for one-up-manship and refusing to disguise their deep desire to come out on top, both Neilson and Ross have proved that they get it.
“I think it is a brilliant fixture at any time and we missed it last season,” admits Ross. "It’s even better now that we have the fans back in this season and then there’s that extra dimension that we have both started the season so well and are occupying the positions in the league table that we do. That adds a little bit to it.”
Hearts won the last couple of meetings, at Hampden and at Easter Road, but it was Ross’ men who triumphed the last time they met their rivals on their own patch.
“The players who are still here from that time will know how good a feeling it is when you go to the home of your derby rivals and win the game,” said the Hibs boss. “The whole atmosphere generated by it is emotionally charged. So, the good thing is we have experienced that but I have experienced both sides and have had some soreness as well. All that does is intensify the desire to be on the right side of the result.
“In my time we have had two derbies in front of crowds and it doesn’t matter where the clubs are or how they are performing, that doesn’t impact on the intensity of the fixture.
“But I think when people look at where the two clubs are right now - when I took the job I think we were both near the bottom - then we have kicked on and look at how Hearts have responded.”
After a season in the Championship, demoted when the 2019/20 season was prematurely curtailed, Neilson’s side have returned with renewed vigour and serious intent, starting the season with a win over Celtic and their troubles appear to be far behind them.
Which is why Sunday’s match against last season’s top three finishers is so mouthwatering for those involved and the intrigued observers.
“It’s indicative of both clubs going in the right direction,” explains Ross. “To be fair to both clubs’ hierarchies I think they understand the importance of some collaborative thinking and trying to make Edinburgh strong, in footballing terms.
“We want to be the best in the city but we understand the importance of having two really strong teams. At the moment we’ve got that and it’s healthy if it continues to be the case.”
Being first is what it is all about, agrees his Hearts counterpart, a veteran of these clashes as player and manager. Whether it’s the first goal to settle nerves, the first tackle that set the tone, or being first to every ball.
“When you are playing derbies, winning the first of everything is important. It’s crucial you start the game well.
“It’s 12pm kick-off so it’s important the players are ready, it’s a bit different from your 3pm and 7.45pm games. We need to be on it right from the start.
“Time will tell what kind of game it might be like. These games are usually pretty gung-ho right at the start and you have 20,000 people there screaming and shouting. That brings an intensity to the game and you have to try and find a way to win it.
“If you win by playing great football, brilliant. If you win by a set play, you take it.”
That’s when it becomes about who has drawn the first blood of the season and who finishes the day first in the Premiership.