Hibs v Dundee United: Paul Hanlon recalls 'weirdest chain of events' that led to 2016 Scottish Cup success

In the story of Hibs’ 2016 Scottish Cup triumph, the drama was not reserved for the concluding few minutes.

Long before May 21, when Liam Henderson delivered and David Gray rose to earn himself his unofficial knighthood, the gripping page-turner had been a yarn of high drama and colourful individuals, with the semi-final worthy of several chapters on its own.

In that last-four visit to Hampden, the character-driven tale of the unexpected, served up fresh heroes, spot-kick tension and stoked the belief that something special was brewing.

“It was the weirdest chain of events,” recalls Paul Hanlon as the Leith side prepare to repeat that victory over Dundee United in this season’s semi-final on Saturday. “I remember the quarter-final against Inverness when [goalkeeper] Mark Oxley’s contact lens fell out on the pitch and he couldn’t find it. He told the ref he needed a new one but the ref just thought he was time-wasting and gave him a yellow card and that meant he was suspended for the semi and we had to go looking for a goalkeeper.

“So that itself was strange but then Conrad [Logan, Hibs loanee keeper] came in having been out of football for a while with a serious injury and a few of the lads were definitely thinking he wasn’t in good enough shape to be playing first team football but he didn’t take long to convince us in training. You could see the quality he had as a goalkeeper and his frame definitely helped him in the semi-final. Dundee United struggled to get past him and he has gone down as an absolute legend, and rightly so. He got us to the final and he is also a really, really good guy. It wasn’t just the fans, all the boys loved him.”

Adding to the saves made in open play, he emerged from that semi-final shoot-out with Dundee United with cult status assured.

By the time Hanlon stepped up to send Hibs’ second spot-kick into the bottom corner, the Irishman had already saved two of United’s. McGinn had taken Hibs’ first, Martin Boyle converted the third and that allowed Jason Cummings, in storybook fashion, the opportunity to step up and redeem himself after he blundered with a penalty taken Panenka-style in regulation time.

“Looking back now you think ‘why were we so shocked he tried that?’” laughs Hanlon. “That’s his character. Thankfully, I don't think he quite had it in him to try it again in the shoot-out, although there were a few of us thinking he might. But he was just desperate to hit the net. I have watched it back a few times and he looks super-confident and cool walking up but that wasn’t the case when he was standing on the halfway line waiting for his shot, that’s for sure.

Paul Hanlon celebrates netting his penalty as Hibs defeat Dundee United in the semi-final of the 2016 Scottish Cup. Photo by Craig Foy/ SNS Group

“But, the way the game goes, with Jason putting away the winning penalty. It’s another of those stories that make it so special.”

Another set of do or die penalties decided this season’s quarter-final against Motherwell, with Hanlon one of those who volunteered to step up. He didn’t make it into the initial five and it was his central defensive partner Ryan Porteous who delivered the decisive effort before his services could be called on.

“Jackson Irvine was keen and I’m always happy to take one but the manager made the decision. But I’ve not missed one in a penalty shoot out yet. I’m confident and I have taken a few in high pressure games - Brondby away in Europe and in cup ties.”

And, despite being painfully aware of the club’s 114 wait for a Scottish Cup, he says there was no unbearable pressure when he walked up to the spot in 2016.

Despite only appearing in eight games for Hibs, his performances in the Scottish Cup meant the Irishman got plenty of mentions from Hibs fans.

“It wasn’t like my penalty was going to win us the cup so I just picked my spot and managed to get a clean strike. But it is good that in terms of the hoodoo, as it was called, and the way it was built up every year, all that chat has gone

“But, everyone is desperate to win trophies. When you look back at the end of your career, those are the moments you will look back on most fondly. Even European football, it’s all great but you want medals and trophies.

“If we could finish third in the league and get a cup win then I would be able to look back on this as my most successful and my most enjoyable and memorable season, especially when you add the fact I got a Scotland cap as well. But, there’s still a lot of hard work to go.”

The 31-year-old defender remembers thinking the club were on the brink of something special at the end of that 2016 semi-final, though, and says there are stirrings of something similar this term.

“You usually don't get that until you reach the final but even then, we had been there so many times over the years. But that year did feel extra special and I think that was because of the group of players we had. That was a tight group.

“This season has definitely been like that as well. The manager has built a squad that is full of like-minded, determined, hungry individuals who all want to do well and he is the same.

“Potts and Sammy [assistant manager John Potter and goalkeeping coach Craig Samson] are really good at keeping spirits high and there are characters that complement each other and work well together. Then, on top of that, the covid situation has raised issues that we have had to face together and I think that has helped bring us even closer. It has all come together to produce a close-knit squad that is determined to be successful.

“The boys who were here in 2016 want to experience that again and the new guys have seen the videos and want to experience it as well.”

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