Jon McLaughlin would love to play at Hampden in a Scotland jersey and has recently been gathering plenty of support for his inclusion in Alex McLeish’s first squad, to be named this week.
But he also wants to be running out at the national stadium on Hearts duty next month, in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup. For that to happen, he and his colleagues will have to better Motherwell when they meet up in the quarter-finals of the competition at Fir Park tomorrow.
“It’s a big carrot,” said the Hearts goalkeeper. “It would be a big reward for everyone. When I was down in England, if you have the opportunity to play at Wembley then it’s been absolutely massive, and I’m sure up here the opportunity, for myself and everyone, to play competitive fixtures at Hampden would be amazing.
“For the fans too, the opportunity to play one of the big boys, if all the favourites get through, would be brilliant.”
A club that has had gradually been rebuilding its reputation and status, coming back from administration, and relegation to the Championship to contest loftier positions in the top flight, Hearts have also endured a tough season, with delays in the main stand construction and managerial upheaval, but a return to Hampden for the first time since 2013 would be another box ticked, according to director and manager Craig Levein.
Mc Laughlin added: “If we could get to Hampden it would be fantastic for everyone, especially the supporters. We have had a difficult year with everything that has happened, there have been a lot of changes and also the huge expense we have had to go to to erect the new main stand.
“I normally associate Hampden with finals but the way the tournament is shaping up it looks like both of the semi-finals will be there as well so I am hoping we can do really well in this game and give our fans a day to look forward to.”
But progress will not be easy. The teams have met three times already this season and honours are even, with one win apiece and a 1-1 draw in the most recent meeting, at Tynecastle at the end of January.
Levein said: “This is one of the hardest draws we could have got. They are in decent form. They had a little blip when Louis Moult left for Preston in the transfer window.
“But they seem to have steadied the ship a bit and added the lad [Curtis] Main, who has done a good job. So it is a difficult place to win games.”
The fact that Hearts are also away from home simply increases the difficulty, with the previous head to head at Fir Park ending 2-1 in Motherwell’s favour.
“When you get to the quarter-finals of the cup the first thing you’d like is a home draw,” said Levein, who is aggrieved not to be heading into the tie on then back of a midweek victory over Kilmarnock after his side missed a last-gasp spot-kick to claim all three points.
He added: “But then you’d like to avoid the top teams in the league and we’ve managed to do that. Motherwell away is probably the next hardest one, but I think we still have a great opportunity to impress.”
While Hearts have lost just twice in 18 games and sit fifth in the Premiership table, Motherwell, who are two places below them in the standings, have proved themselves a decent cup team.
The Lanarkshire side reached the final of this season’s League Cup, where they only succumbed to the might of defending champions Celtic.
Levein added: “Stephen [Robinson] has them playing in a way where they all understand what they are doing, and it’s always dangerous when a team as a way of playing and they’re good at it.
“We’re not quite there yet, we’re still a work in progress and I am hopeful come the transfer window in the summer that we can kick on again.
“But I have been relatively happy with the way things have gone. I am disappointed not to have picked up more points in the league. But to get into a situation where we have got to the quarter-finals of the cup, I don’t think we have been there for a while, so that feels good.”