A footballer should never get too carried away with his emotions. That’s the advice of Darren McGregor after the Hibs defender was given another reminder of football’s fickle nature. While every player craves success, for every delirious high there’s a heartbreaking low waiting right around the corner.
Last week the centre-back was the hero of Easter Road, scoring two goals as Hibs wrapped up the Ladbrokes Championship title and their return to the top flight. It was a fitting conclusion to the title bid. McGregor has been Hibs’ best player this season and he deserved his time in the limelight. Seven days later, in his own words, the boyhood Hibs fan “assisted” two Aberdeen goals as his team’s reign as Scottish Cup holders came to an end.
The winning-goal, netted by Jonny Hayes after his shot deflected off McGregor, was hardly the defender’s fault. The opener, scored by Adam Rooney in 11 seconds, was a very different story.
“I’ve gone square to Efe, but when you play against good players, they read it. Rooney has read my body shape, he nips in and doesn’t even give me a chance to recover before he smashes it away in the far corner,” McGregor said as he recalled his first-minute error. “You make split-second decisions. Sometimes they work for you, sometimes they work against you. Today’s it worked against me and I’m gutted I let the boys down.
“I thought we came into the game and did well to claw it back to 2-2. Fate wasn’t on my side on the day. Hayes hit a mediocre shot, at best, which clipped me on the shin. It was like I was watching it in slow motion. It started curving outside of the post and then crawled in.
“Football’s like this – full of highs and lows. People ask me why I stay quite neutral with my emotions. I don’t like to get too up or down. This is why. Last week I scored twice to help us win promotion to the Premiership. This week, I’ve assisted two for Aberdeen and we’ve lost a semi-final. I’m hard on myself. I could have done better so I’m really disappointed.”
Though they’ll be down at the moment, the high from last year’s triumph will hang around Easter Road for a good while yet. Since David Gray’s header it’s been a continuous celebration for the green half of Edinburgh. A day they never thought would arrive finally did, and they weren’t going to forget about it in a hurry. The trophy was viewed by thousands, and passed from Duddingston to Drylaw. With so many desperate to get their hands on the famous cup, it’s a wonder the metal hasn’t worn off the handles.
Such bliss was always going to be finite, and whether they liked it or not, yesterday was their closing party. There’s no great way to relinquish the Scottish Cup, and there’s no defeat that would have taken the gloss off last year’s triumph, but if there’s ever a way to go out, then this was it.
Two goals down to the second best side in the country, Hibs sides of old would have submitted to fatalism and been on the end of a hammering. There was the briefest flicker of discontent when, soon after Ryan Christie’s goal, Hayes flashed a shot into the side netting. The 19,000 who’d made their way to Hampden to see this amazing run continue didn’t want it to end this way, and the team responded. The substitution which saw Fraser Fyvie depart for Grant Holt had a massive impact on proceedings. An attack populated exclusively by diminutive players couldn’t pass the ball around a tenacious Aberdeen and there was no plan B available on the park.
Holt gave them that. Hibs were the better side following his introduction, and the noise in the Hibs end grew with each passing minute. Chants of “here we go, two in a row” rang around Hampden after Dylan McGeouch’s equaliser. The belief was growing and if any team was going to win it, it looked like Hibs. Football, though, doesn’t always go according to the script.
Hayes’ winner pulled the plug on the party; shutting off the lights and cutting the music. Though the Hibs faithful refused to go quietly. Songs of “you’re not singing any more” from the joyous Dons’ fans were immediately met with chants from the other end. Even the full-time whistle, a confirmation of defeat, was met by rapturous applause from the vanquished half of Hampden. Their team had done them proud and they were going to let them know regardless of result.
“It is quite unique,” admitted McGregor. “I said that if we came and gave a good account of ourselves, the fans would walk away happy. We didn’t want to give the cup up, but we came up against good opposition and made a couple of mistakes.”