Memories of final day shoot-out and bus celebrations help fuel Chris Cadden's Hibs ambitions but he admits he is surprised that club have had to wait so long for top-three finish
Given his shot at first team football when the Fir Park side followed up a third place and a second place finish by wrapping up the 2013/4 league campaign as runners up, his experience in getting that ambition over the line could be invaluable to his current club, Hibs who are closing in on a third-place finish for the first time in 16 years.
But, while he remembers the sense of achievement and the tension surrounding the final-day trip to face Aberdeen in a winner-takes-all match at Pittodrie, he admits that the details are, perhaps understandably, more sketchy thanks to the post-match celebrations.
“That was a great year for me. I was on the bench the day we secured second up at Aberdeen. It was an unbelievable experience and that team was great as well.
“I haven’t really thought about whether I can bring anything here from that experience but I’ll do anything I can to help the team get as high as possible.
“I didn’t realise it’s 16 years since Hibs finished third - that’s surprising, to be fair.”
Especially when his fledgling years at Fir Park served up high finishes and European football on a fairly regular basis.
“If I’m being honest, I just remember the bus home from Aberdeen being unbelievable! That’s about all I can really remember.
“We were really good and hard to beat. That was our plan and we went up and won 1-0 with the last kick of the ball or something. All I can remember is the bus journey home - well, the first half of it anyway!”
With Rangers making their journey up through the lower leagues that victory secured second place but this year, at Hibs, the target is to finish best of the rest behind the Ibrox side and Celtic. Aberdeen, again provide the primary competition, though.
Four points ahead with a game in hand as they head into the final eight games of the campaign, starting at McDiarmid Park against St Johnstone, the Easter Road side are in the home straight but both Cadden and manager Jack Ross know that is the toughest part of the race.
“Yes. I’ve always said that the mental aspect is so important in football, especially as you challenge higher up. The higher you get, the more mentally challenging it is.
“You can have all the football ability in the world but if you’ve not got it up there, mentally, it’s going to be difficult. So, mentality is so important and that’s something the gaffer tries to instal in us.
“There’s a really good group here who have that, I feel. That’s something I noticed when I came in here, players wanting to win, wanting to get as high up as possible. Mentality is absolutely massive.”
The attacking full-back, who left Motherwell in 2019 and had short spells at Oxford United and in the USA, has proved an influential addition to the ranks since his January acquisition
Quickly up to match speed the 24 year-old has impressed sufficiently to be talked about as a possible fullback option for Scotland manager Steve Clarke at the upcoming Euros.
Flattered to be linked with a return to the national set up, Cadden knows that Hibs’ ability to prove their big game psyche and clinch third ahead of Aberdeen could factor into any call-up decision.
Aware that his recent signing could be a real asset in the run-in and beyond, Easter Road gaffer Ross shares his opinions on the psychology of winning and his faith in the men around him to hit the squad’s pre-season target.
Not easy to get things over the line, Ross has sampled both sides of that, coming close but not close enough with Sunderland at Wembley, after showing the mental stamina to secure the Championship title with St Mirren.
“I think it gives you a very good understanding of how difficult it is to do when you get to that final part. When you look at players in this country - there was also a manager - who have been regularly criticised this season yet they have done the hardest part of the game, consistently over the past few years. And it is the hardest part, winning semi and then finals, winning the league, qualifying for Europe, whatever those achievements should be, but that is where we want to be as a club. I understand how difficult it is but every time you have that experience, it strengthens you and ensures you are better prepared for when the next opportunity comes around as well.
“We obviously have guys who have previous experience of achieving success with Hibs and who have won titles and cups here and we have players who have come from other clubs who have had admirable success there as well so I think they understand.
“I don’t think it is a naive group who have never been in this kind of situation before. They understand that they are in a good position and when you get to that stage it is about ensuring you have enough character and drive to get over that line.
“That is the hardest part of any race. That home straight or last lap, whatever you want to call it, is the bit where you really need to dig deep and that will be the same for us as a club.”
But, recalling as much as possible from that bus journey back from Pittodrie in 2014, Cadden knows the efforts are worth it.
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