Hearts’ Hampden hero Danny Grainger eyes FA Cup glory

Danny Grainger with the Sky Bet Football League Unsung Hero award. Picture: CUFC Twitter
Danny Grainger with the Sky Bet Football League Unsung Hero award. Picture: CUFC Twitter
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Danny Grainger knows how it feels to experience cup highs, insisting they do not come much higher than winning a national trophy at the expense of derby rivals.

He was one of the players who cemented their place in Hearts’ history at Hampden on 19 May, 2012, scoring one of the goals in the 5-1 ravishing of Hibernian he says he will never forget. No other head-to-head result between the capital clubs could come close, he says, but he concedes he will still feel a tinge of jealousy when his successors at Tynecastle run out in front of a sell-out crowd at the beginning of February.

But by the time he turns up in Gorgie to cheer on his old clubmates, he hopes there will be another glorious chapter in his own cup history to relish.

Having left Hearts in 2013, he joined up with his boyhood heroes Carlisle United at the start of last season. As has proved the case throughout his career, the union has been one of ups and downs. For every advancement through the leagues with Gretna, and every Hearts trophy parade, there have been injuries, administrations and relegation. The latter came last term, when the Brunton Park side stumbled down a division. But this season has been about making up for that disappointment.

As well as pushing for an immediate return to the higher tier, gunning for one of the promotion play-off places, they revelled in a Capital One League Cup tie against Liverpool earlier in the campaign. It was a bitter-sweet experience and while the Carlisle captain cherished leading his team-mates out at Anfield, he was gutted that the hard work and the threatened giant killing floundered at the last minute, in a penalty shoot-out that ended badly for the underdogs, with Grainger one of three players who failed to convert their spot -kicks.

“The Hearts cup win is the highlight of my career and I don’t think anything will top that,” said Grainger. “How could it? No-one, not even us, thought we would win by that much. We believed we would win but the way it worked out was better than any of us could have imagined.

“But it was great to play Liverpool earlier this season and lead out my home town team and run a club like Liverpool close, and if we can beat Yeovil tonight then we have another big game to look forward to.”

The trip to Yeovil Town is for an FA Cup tie which was agonisingly forced to a replay courtesy of a last-gasp goal. But while the lengthy journey and extra match is something the club, which has been battered by the recent floods and living a nomadic life as a consequence, could do without, having been begging and borrowing training facilities and stadia to host “home” matches, the hope is that the reward will be worth it.

Aided by Derby County, Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool as they tried to host fixtures while large swathes of the Carlisle community, including their home ground, was under water, now that the metaphorical tide has turned and the immediate repair work has been carried out they will return to Brunton Park this weekend. That will be a league fixture against York, but if they defeat Yeovil, they will also be able to look forward to a sell-out cup tie the following weekend.

“It has been strange travelling miles for a home match and we have been fortunate that so many clubs have helped us out, but it will be good to be home. Carlisle has always been a good community club but I think what we have all gone through, the people in the town and at the club in the past few weeks has strengthened that and it would be great to lead the team out at home in a game against Everton. It would be something for everyone to look forward to. But we have to focus on Yeovil first.”

The players earned the respect of the fans and townsfolk by wading in to help in the wake of the misery. They offered up their services, helping to gut homes of water-soaked furniture and carpets as families came to terms with the devastation. It served as a healthy dose of perspective for the players as they trudged around the country, racking up the miles in the name of their sport.

But Grainger is one who accepts that football, like life, serves up contrasts. The pain of administration at Hearts did not dilute the memories of that Scottish Cup final, they merely highlighted the need to savour the success. He says that having survived those dark days has helped the club he still keeps tabs on.

The sense of community that was so evident in Cumbria over the festive period was pivotal to Hearts’ survival and he is happy to see the club blossoming.

“I am still in touch with a few of the boys, especially Sam [Nicholson],” Grainger added. “We travelled into training with each other when I was there and he is such a talented lad.

“I watch as many games as I can on television and I have been up a few times this season and it is great to see them doing so well. The young lads like Sam and Callum and Billy have always had a lot of potential and I do think they can move on to bigger and better things eventually. It would be great for them if they can help Hearts win another trophy first.”