Seven days after Hearts defeated Hibs 3-1 at Tynecastle Park to secure a third-place finish in the cinch Premiership – consigning their rivals to the bottom six in the meantime – is the Scottish Cup semi-final. A Saturday lunchtime showdown at Hampden Park for a place in the end of season finale.
For Hibs, it’s a chance to gain revenge for misery in Mount Florida in 2006, 2012 and 2020, the three previous times the sides have met at the national stadium. It would be a victory which gives the rest of the season serious meaning.
On the other side of the capital, it is a chance to confirm their derby dominance, while making what has so far been a decent season a very good one. And potentially a great one.
But more than all of that and more than the bragging rights is a lot of money. For Hearts, passage into the final will guarantee them a windfall with eight games in Europe next season. Hibs would have to defeat the winners of the Sunday semi-final but it would move them one step closer to those financial rewards.
The income could be game-changing for all clubs below Celtic and Rangers and may even help bridge the divide slightly. Europa League group stage football is worth £3million alone in prize money, with Conference League worth £2.5million.
It would be a special achievement for Hearts in normal times. But even more so when you consider 13 months ago the team were in the Championship, dumped out of the Scottish Cup by Brora Rangers and fans were protesting against Robbie Neilson and Ann Budge.
‘Not finished yet’
“For us as players we can’t get caught up in how big it is,” Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley, who scored the second in the 3-1 win, said. "We know how big it is, but we just really need to focus on giving a performance.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to do as well as we could in the league, finish third and have a cup run.
“We didn’t want to come up and consolidate Premiership football. That’s not what we wanted to do. We felt we had a team here that could go and achieve special things and thankfully, for the most part we’ve managed to do that this season, but it’s not finished yet.
“This is a massive week for us, Saturday was just the first part of it, so next week it goes again, and we can try to finish this season off really strong and then look forward to next season.”
Neilson said the job was ten per cent done after the 3-1 success at a buoyant Tynecastle Park. The Hearts boss understands the magnitude of the semi-final. It’s not lost on the players either.
Kingsley, more than once, talked about the job being only half done.
There may be a fear that such a comfortable victory against the same opponents may lead to complacency, something the defender refutes. Using the opening stages when Hibs took the lead and played well as a sign to the players of what happens if their focus is not 100 per cent narrowed on success at Hampden Park.
Going to be bigger
“That’s massive," he said. “In the build-up it was us focusing on both games. It is half time now, so it’s up to us now to make sure that start doesn’t happen again next week, because at Hampden it could be a real scare and we might not get back into it.
“We knew we were off it at the beginning. I think that goal did wake us up. We eventually started to come out and dominate the game.
“We were disappointed with the way we started, but the last 60-70 minutes was great. I thought we played really well, found spaces, made some great runs in behind and created chances. I don’t think they created much after the first 30 minutes where they just caught us on our heels, so we’ll look back at it and see what we’re going to do going forward.
"It’s going to be even bigger at Hampden next week so we can’t afford to start like that again.
“We need to make sure we start at the levels we got to after the first 15 minutes today and make sure the game takes care of itself because it is for a lot, but all we can do is focus on that performance and make sure if we get that right we can hopefully get the win again.”
On a personal level, Kingsley continues to prove his importance at both ends of the park. It was another flawless defensive display, while he notched his sixth league goal of the campaign, meaning he has joined James Tavernier as the Premiership's top scoring defenders.
The last time he ran out at Hampden Park he netted in the 2020 Scottish Cup final against Celtic but missed his spot-kick in the loss. No Hearts fan in their right mind would be thinking he has to make up for that, in part due to his consistently excellent displays in a maroon shirt. However, no one would turn down back-to-back derby goals.
“It’s brilliant,” Kingsley said when asked how it felt to score against Hibs.
"It’s something I’ve not done, I’ve played in a couple of them now, but I’m just really happy to get the win. If I could score next week that would be even better, but as long as we win it doesn’t really bother me.”