If cup finals are as much a test of temperament as talent then Heriot’s stand-off Gregor McNeish has proven he is the man for the big moments.
Two weeks ago he showed nerves of steel to slot the winning drop goal with the last act of the dramatic BT Premiership semi-final at Currie. He had already pinged over another beauty soon after coming off the bench and his heroics have earned him a swift recall to the starting line-up for this evening’s BT Cup final against Melrose at the national stadium.
“It just kind of happened. It was a good way to go through, I guess. It was pretty tight – it made for an exciting game anyway,” said McNeish, who followed coach Phil Smith from Dunfermline to Goldenacre a couple of years ago. “We don’t practise it or anything. It just all fell together – it was a good kick in the end, I guess.”
It was the second heart-stopping win for the Edinburgh club in as many outings after they had secured their place in today’s final with an extra-time win at Glasgow Hawks which was clinched on the away-team advantage after a 10-10 deadlock.
“We think it’s the sign of a good team if you’re not always firing, or if it’s a close game, and you always come out on top,” said the playmaker.
“We feel that whenever it comes close we’ve got enough to edge the game. Although the last two games have not been the prettiest, it is definitely good practice for a pressurised situation like this.”
Heriot’s are gunning for their fourth cup win, Melrose their third and this is the third meeting between the two clubs at this stage, with one triumph each so far.
Smith’s troops have been on a gilded run, with last year’s Premiership title followed by a Charity Shield and now two more finals to look forward to.
The cup was the missing piece of the puzzle last season, after an agonising semi-final loss at Hawick.
“It was really motivating in this year’s semi because we didn’t want to fall down in the semis again like ‘that game’ at Hawick last year,” explained the coach.
“To miss out last year was massive and this year is a reward and, if they play to their abilities, it should be a good day.”
Heriot’s did win the cup for a third time two years ago when they defeated Glasgow Hawks. That was played at Broadwood Stadium when the BT Murrayfield pitch was being relaid and McNeish said the players are relishing a return to play at the home of Scottish rugby.
“It is a wide pitch, but we reckon no wider than Goldenacre,” he said. “It suits us, but also Melrose as well, because both games we’ve played have been expansive from both teams.”
Melrose have beaten Heriot’s twice this season but their skipper Bruce Colvine is not reading too much into that.
“Both games this year against Heriot’s have been pretty close affairs. I’d imagine it will be another close one,” said the scrum-half.
“We’re confident in everything we do. But, when you get to a cup final, league form goes out the window and it depends on who turns up on the day. ”
Melrose coach John Dalziel is also expecting it to be a tight but not unattractive encounter between two teams who like to play. “The games are always pretty close between Melrose and Heriot’s and that’s going back over the last eight or nine years, and some of them have been out there at Murrayfield in cup finals as well,” said Dalziel. “It is a game that the boys always look forward to because they know they are going to get a free-flowing match, and I think both sets of players will look to throw the ball about in this one as well.”
The trio of Melrose, Heriot’s and Ayr, who will face the Goldenacre side in the BT Premiership final next Saturday, have developed into a kind of “Big Three” and Dalziel said: “There’s a bit of rivalry there. There have been cup wins and league titles bouncing back and forwards between the three of us these last few years.
“When you get into these games I think the coaches become side-lined a bit because the players don’t need any more motivation.”