At the time Jack Ross was just an interested spectator, with no real skin in the game. But when the current Hibs boss looks back at reruns of the 2016 Scottish Cup final now, he can’t help but smile.
The vicarious joy he now devines from from Hibs’ 3-2 victory over Rangers and the celebrations that consumed the minutes, hours and days that followed, is different from the more general interest he showed four years ago.
“I’m pretty sure I watched the cup final in the house and I remember how good a game it was.
“I had played with Stokesy for a while when he was younger so when players are involved who you have had an association with, either playing with them or coaching, then you have a vested interest. But I do remember I was fairly neutral.”
A club who had tried and failed to land the nation’s most prestigious knockout trophy 10 times since they last lifted it in 1902, they had also lost that season’s League Cup final and, just days earlier, had hopes of a return to the Premiership thwarted at the play-off stage. The preamble had not been lost on Ross.
“I remember I was fairly neutral when watching it, although I don’t think you could help but root for Hibs because of everything that had happened, their history and how long it had been since they had won it. The circumstances in which they won it as well, that was special, and it was one of those moments that remind us why we follow football; why we love it. Certainly, it is something that will never leave Dave [Gray], I would imagine. That was a game that made memories people will never forget.”
The Easter Road side took a third-minute lead thanks to Anthony Stokes, who levelled matters ten minutes from the end, after Rangers’ Kenny Miller and Andy Halliday had overhauled the capital side.
It set the scene for a dramatic climax as captain Gray rose to head home Liam Henderson’s header and end the 114-year hoodoo.
That is why Ross jokingly refers to the final as “David’s game”.
“He doesn’t talk about it much, though. But that is probably Dave’s character. That doesn’t mean you can get away from the part he played in it and how much it means because there is a big picture of him celebrating on the wall of the gym, so we see him celebrate it every single day we are in the training ground.
“I’m sure he does get asked about it quite a lot. But, he is a humble guy.
“There are actually a few of them in that group who are like that and, because of who they are and how they are as people, you maybe don’t always appreciate how much it must have meant to them. To Dave, Darren [McGregor], Lewis [Stevenson], Paul [Hanlon], guys who are not flashy characters.
“But when I watch reruns now, it makes me smile because I have got to know them over a period of time and understand their personalities, so watching Lewis and Paul and Daz’s reactions show just how much it meant to them. You can see it in their faces when they lift the cup. And can see how special it was for them.
“I have got to know these guys and have a lot of time for them as players but also as men. They have been really good for me for the few months I have been in, from the first conversations to the way they train and go about their work on a daily basis. They are proper professionals and good guys and when I watch the celebrations back, it makes me smile to see guys who aren’t the most extroverted, guys who are normally quietly going about their business, showing that kind of emotion and enjoying it. It is so nice for them. You can see exactly what they are feeling in that moment and I love that.”