When Dundee United won the Scottish Cup in 2010, Ian Cathro wasn’t at Hampden. He can’t recall exactly where he was, but the guy who was head of the club’s youth academy at that time does know that whatever he was doing, it will have felt like the most important thing in the world.
“We must have had an Under-12 thing on – that was obviously more important than the cup final that day!” he smiles. There is a healthy dose of self-deprecation, as he laughs at his ability to get lost in whatever he is responsible for in that moment and blank out the rest of the world.
“Yeah, I literally would’ve thought whatever I was doing was more important. I mean, that’s just the way it was for me. It’s one of the things that makes the next challenge that I take on easier. I wrongly thought that the things I was doing then were the most important things. Now this is the most important thing.”
Missing out on the match, he was, he admits, aware that something special was happening, in the build up. Certainly, in the aftermath, a lightbulb moment assailed him as the team partied at a local hotel that night.
He said: “I wasn’t at the game. But you remember the impact it has on people’s lives. I think we were in a hotel when they got back. They had decked out a private room.
“I was there because I was invited. I think most people were shocked that I wasn’t working on something else! But I did go down for a bit and I remember sitting down at one of the tables and just seeing people reacting. I love that bit. You just realise what an impact it has and love the fact that hard work can give that to people.
“You just take a split second and think: ‘That’s with everybody for the rest of their lives. And outside this little private room it’s with this city, or half of it, for the rest of their lives’.
“When football can give that feeling and experience, then you feel privileged to have the chance to give that to people.”
Until that day, his Scottish Cup recall had been restricted to “childhood memories of the sunny afternoons, watching the TV all day”. Now he has the opportunity to really write a new chapter in the history of a club who have celebrated some of their greatest moments in that competition.
Those successes are well documented on the walls of the old stand at Tynecastle, with images of goal celebrations, cup parades and trophy presentations from those glory runs hard to miss. They serve as motivation and inspiration for Cathro and, he hopes, his players.
He said: “There are a lot of cup images and these are the things that end up making up what the football club is, everything it has done, every big day it has had, every big moment, and how people have lived through those things and remembered those things and repeat the stories. That’s what the football club is.
“Over the period of time I am here I fully intend being a part of writing new things [into the history books]. The players will be the ones who do most of the writing, I’ll just maybe set out the chapters! But it has to start now. None of us in this are at a point where we can start looking too far ahead. So what we look to is Sunday’s game, how we prepare for it, what we think is the best way for us to win this game.”
The match away to Raith Rovers will be the side’s first game after the winter shutdown. It will also, undoubtedly, mark the debuts of at least one or two of this month’s new additions, with January comings and goings prompting a reshuffling of personnel.
One of those is likely to be Lennard Sowah, who signed on a free after several months at Hamilton Accies. The left-back is likely to get his chance, in the absence of Faycal Rherras, who, along with Arnaud Djoum, is away on African Nations Cup duty. He is aware that both men only made their international debuts after catching the eye at Hearts and that is something the 24-year-old German-born Ghanaian hopes to emulate one day.
Sowah said: “My parents are from Ghana and I would personally like to play for them.
“I was born in Germany so it will always be a proud moment to play for them and to watch those players win the World Cup – especially the ones I know personally – but Ghana is a hope of mine.
“All I can do is play to my best for Hearts and hopefully I will get the call from them one day. Playing for Ghana is a massive personal goal and, playing for Hearts, I want to be solid, play games and help the team forward. I believe that everything will fall into place if I do that. This club already has two players in the African Cup of Nations so that shows this is a good platform.”
The hard works starts today, with progress in the Scottish Cup a must after a tricky start for Cathro and a series of tough cup draws in the knock-out competitions stunting progress in recent years.
Cathro said: “It’s a cup tie and we all know what that means. At the end of it, something has happened and we know what we want that to be. We want to win, to play well and it’s that straightforward for us.
“We want to play well in every single minute of the game and if we do that then we have a really good chance of getting to the last bit, having won the game.”