Hibs double winner Oliver wants more

Little did Oliver Russell think as he sat at home on a Saturday watching the afternoon's football scores roll in a few months ago that he'd be ending the season dreaming of another crack at cup glory.

An SFA Youth Cup winner with Hibs, captaining the team for the final at Hampden in 2009 in the absence of Sean Welsh, the 21-year-old had become disillusioned with football following an unhappy season with Berwick Rangers and had all but hung up his boots.

But an unexpected phone call from Musselburgh Athletic boss David McGlynn saw him swap his armchair for Olive Bank and since then it's just got better and better, culminating in "The Burgh" facing Auchinleck Talbot in Sunday's Emirates Junior Cup final.

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Today Russell recalled the moment his love of football was rekindled, saying: "Although I hadn't fully retired from the game I'd all but given up. I'd left Berwick Rangers and no opportunities arose throughout last summer. I'd got to October and was spending my Saturday afternoon's watching the scores coming when David phoned, asked what I was doing with myself and if I'd fancy coming along to training to see if I'd enjoy it. I did and I signed a few weeks later.

"Even then, though, I couldn't have dreamt for one minute I'd be ending the season playing in the Junior Cup final. You don't get too many opportunities in football to win silverware but I've been lucky enough to get a winners medal when Hibs' Under-19 side won both the League and the Cup the other year so it would be great to lift another trophy."

However, as both Russell and Musselburgh defender Calvin Shand - another who spent his earlier years at Easter Road - acknowledged, they go into Sunday's match as massive underdogs with Ayrshire outfit Auchinleck not only eight time winners of the trophy but enjoying a "home tie" with the final being played at Kilmarnock's Rugby Park. Shand said: "I think like any player at any level of football you start off in a cup competition with the hope of getting to the final but also having that wee thought at the back of your head that you won't get there.

"So to reach the Junior Cup final is beyond our wildest dreams.

"I think the fact no-one every expected us to do so will make the occasion all the sweeter and more enjoyable.

"It's a fantastic achievement for a club of our size, particularly when you consider the number of sides which would have entered the competition in the first place.

"Auchinleck will be massive, massive favourites and quite rightly so. They are a huge Junior club, one which consistently gets to cup finals and wins leagues.

"However, I believe all the pressure is on them."

Shand, who also played for Cowdenbeath, Peterhead and Berwick Rangers, admitted McGlynn's side had enjoyed a touch of luck on their way to the final, not least in avoiding either Auchinleck or Bo'ness United in the semi-final draw.

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He said: "I think when we went away to Broughty Ferry and won, then got home draws against Renfrew and then Kilbirnie Ladeside in the quarter-finals we started to get a real belief we could get to the final.

"Then we were listening to the semi-final draw on the radio hoping not to get one of the big teams and it was kind to us again. Dalry Thistle was still going to be a tough tie but I'm sure they'd have been delighted to get us rather than Auchinleck or Bo'ness.

"We really only got ourselves safe in the league last week, perhaps the cup run did distract us a bit, but now we can concentrate and look forward to Sunday."

Unlike the senior game, the Junior Cup semi-finals are two-legged affairs, Musselburgh taking the narrowest of advantages, a 1-0 win, to Ayrshire for the second match. Shand said: "Going down to play in Ayrshire is never easy.

"There was a big crowd but we handled it pretty well. We scored in the first half which settled us down but Dalry hit the woodwork twice and missed a penalty."

Dalry did claim an equaliser but Musselburgh held on to win, giving them the chance to lift the trophy for the first time since season 1922/23 when the club was known as "Musselburgh Bruntonians."

Again, unlike the senior game, the Junior Cup has afforded Musselburgh the opportunity to face teams they normally wouldn't come across which, Russell insisted, made the competition all the more enjoyable.

He said: "Every team we've come up against has been one we don't know anything about. You don't go out thinking 'that's their dangerman there,' or they'll play this way or that.

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"Having said that, though, I know David McGlynn and his coaches have been going to see Auchinleck over the last few weeks while I'd imagine they'll have been doing the same so I'd expect us to know a little bit more about each other than might have been the case."

While Russell admitted he felt the choice of venue for the final was "unfair," claiming Livingston's Braidwood Motor Stadium might have proved more neutral, Musselburgh will, nevertheless, enjoy a huge travelling support.

Shand said: "That's the great thing about the Junior Cup, the whole town is behind us regardless of whether they support Hibs, Hearts, Rangers, Celtic or whoever. I've heard that something like 30 buses have been booked and that we'll have 3000 or 4000 coming through to support us.

"Usually we are lucky if we get a couple of hundred at Olive Bank.

"But in recent weeks the crowds have increased and there's been a real buzz in the town. The main thing at this level is that you enjoy your football. It's more a hobby than anything with the majority of the boys coming straight from work to go training."

Having paraded his skills on grounds such as Easter Road and Ibrox in the past, Shand admitted Sunday will probably be the biggest game of his career - and that of a number of his team-mates. Shand, who with his wife Cass owns three hairdressing salons, added: "I got to the play-off finals with Peterhead and most of the boys have played senior football and big games but I think this one will be the biggest of most of our careers."

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