HISTORY will be made in the Active Nation Scottish Cup next month when a club from the ranks of the juniors takes on a Scottish Premier League opponent for the first time.
At the fourth-round draw yesterday, Irvine Meadow were handed a trip to face Hibernian on what is their maiden cup venture. Junior clubs were first given the chance to qualify for the cup only three years ago.
Although Hamilton Academical's tie with Rangers was chosen by Sky to be shown live, Irvine Meadow's clash with Hibs had to be identified as the most intriguing of those pairings drawn at Hampden Park by Richard Gough and John Kennedy.
Hearts' trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen is another attractive match, and perhaps not what Csaba Laszlo's side will have wanted one week after having faced Hibs in the New Year derby.
But those associated with Irvine Meadow were clicking their heels when their name was paired with Hibs. According to club secretary Iain McQueen, Irvine Meadow expect to bring "several thousand" fans with them to Edinburgh for the biggest day in the club's 112-year history.
The Ayrshire Superleague Premier side defeated Second Division Arbroath in the third round on Saturday, the first time a junior club has beaten a senior outfit in the cup, and will continue to fly the flag for the junior game on 9 January.
McQueen, the brother of former Scotland and Manchester United player Gordon, expressed his delight at the draw and was relieved to have avoided the difficulty of being drawn at home against Hibs. Meadow Park, the club's home ground, has a capacity of just 2,500, while the club have been battling financial problems recently.
"The logistics of having the game at Meadow Park would have prevented us hosting it there, and we would probably have had to go somewhere else like Kilmarnock or Ayr," he said. "So we are just as happy going to Hibernian.
"We have won the Junior Cup final before, but in the 112 years we have been going this is the first year we have been in the Scottish Cup proper. It has been dream world up to now. Now this is fantasy land with the Hibs game. Obviously there will be a bit of money for us, which means financial security for a season or two. We are living the dream – long may it continue."
Both Celtic and Rangers were quickly drawn from the hat, with the former given an away tie at either Greenock Morton or Dumbarton. Any hope Irvine Meadow had of meeting one of the Old Firm was extinguished after confirmation of the first three ties.
But the Ayrshire side did not have long to wait before learning their own fate. Any deflation felt at missing out on either Rangers or Celtic was assuaged by a match against the side currently sitting just behind the Old Firm in the Scottish Premier League. "I think (the disappointment] was much tempered by the fact we drew Hibernian," said McQueen. "That's a great second best. There was differing opinions over whether we wanted to get a big club like we have, or whether we wanted a club more at the level where we are at, and the opportunity it might present to progress to the next round. But we have drawn an SPL club and we are delighted."
Crowds at Meadow Park vary between 500 and 1,500, with 1,100 having attended the team's clash with Arbroath on Saturday. Richie Barr scored the only goal of the game in the first-half.
"I imagine going to Easter Road we will take several thousand fans there," said McQueen, news likely to hearten their hosts. "Guys like Brian McGinty and Ritchie Barr, and Steven Swift and Derek Wingate, have all had experience at senior level. Hopefully that will stand us in good stead."
McQueen does not believe for a second that Hibs will be in any way downcast at having been paired with such lesser lights of the game. As far as he was concerned, it provides Hibs, who have not won the Scottish Cup since 1902, with every chance of getting their latest campaign off to a winning start. "I think this is the first tie Hibs wanted," he smiled. "We have the benefit of the David and Goliath thing. It is a fairytale for us, but I imagine they will be delighted at having the opportunity to progress to the next round."
Hibs manager John Hughes immediately vowed to "do a professional job" on Irvine Meadow. Hughes, who played in the junior ranks with Newtongrange Star before moving into the Scottish Football League with Berwick, insists he is thrilled to see Meadow reach the stage of the competition where the SPL clubs join the fray.
"I'm delighted with the home draw," said Hughes. "We'll be happy to keep a clean sheet and get through to the next round but we'll need to go and do a professional job. Our homework will be thorough and we will do our preparation to get through the tie, we'll have them watched two or three times. I love the glamour of the Scottish Cup. Having played junior football myself I'm delighted a junior club like Irvine Meadow are getting to this stage."
Other ties to catch the eye include the last of the three all- Premier League ties to feature in the draw. Along with Hamilton Accies against Rangers and Aberdeen v Hearts, Kilmarnock and Falkirk will also do battle. Terry Butcher's Inverness Caledonian Thistle host his old side Motherwell, while Ian McCall has been handed the chance to pit his wits against Dundee United. The Partick Thistle manager was sacked by the Tannadice club – who must travel to Firhill – in 2005.
Edinburgh City, the only East of Scotland league side left in the tournament, will host Montrose at Meadowbank, while Forfar Athletic host St Johnstone.
• Inverness CT v Motherwell
• Hamilton v Rangers
• Morton or Dumbarton v Celtic
• Hibernian v Irvine Meadow
• St Mirren v Cowdenbeath or Alloa Athletic
• Raith Rovers or Peterhead v Airdrie United
• Dunfermline Athletic v Stenhousemuir or Cove Rangers
• Forfar v St Johnstone
• Clyde or Livingston v Dundee
• Albion Rovers v Stirling Albion
• Aberdeen v Hearts
• Edinburgh City v Montrose
• Partick Thistle v Dundee Utd
• Ross County v Inverurie Loco Works
• Ayr Utd v Wick Academy or Brechin City
• Kilmarnock v Falkirk
(Ties to be played 9/10 January)