The phrase “Firhill for thrills” may not spring freely to mind when looking back at Glasgow Warriors’ five-year tenancy at the “Maryhill Maracana” – home of Partick Thistle FC but it was there that the shoots of a rugby revolution in Scotland’s biggest city began to show.
Seven years on from the move to a more bespoke setting at Scotstoun, the Warriors have gone from being quirky lodgers to supplanting their erstwhile landlords the Harry Wraggs as the third sporting force by the Clyde behind the Old Firm footballing totems of Celtic and Rangers.
On 25 February 2011, as then head coach Sean Lineen was beginning to rouse Glasgow out of a slumber which had seen them not long before playing in front of fewer than 2,000 at Hughenden, a young 18-year-old from Hawick was handed the full-back jersey for his Warriors debut against Dragons in the then Magners League.
There were thrills at Firhill that night as Glasgow snatched a dramatic 16-16 draw but it was the first professional appearance of Stuart Hogg which lends an otherwise run of the mill game a sheen of significance.
The teenager featured once more during that 2010-11 season before supplanting the Argentine Bernardo Stortoni the following season and skyrocketing to a stellar career which has seen Hogg race to 67 caps by the age of 26. He has also been on two Lions tours and earned a big move to English giants Exeter Chiefs for next season.
That last part of the story means tomorrow night’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Ulster in front of a 10,000 sell-out crowd will be Hogg’s last appearance in Warriors colours at a stadium he has made his home since Glasgow’s move there in 2012.
“It means a great deal to me,” said Hogg at Scotstoun ahead of the big game. “It’s a special place to play and, if I get the opportunity to play at the weekend, I’ll relish it and hopefully use it as an opportunity to thank the fans with my performances over the next couple of games, and hopefully we can win some silverware.”
The fact it is a semi-final, with the lure of a Celtic Park final next Saturday, means Hogg is holding back on the “final curtain” vibe, fully aware that tomorrow is just the first part as he seeks to serve a full two weeks notice completely committed to the cause of leaving on a high.
“I had two seasons [at Firhill]. I’m older than I look,” he said with a smile. “It was good to get a bigger stadium, a bigger fanbase, and the club has grown year on year ever since. So, it is a special place.”
There was a time, as Hogg reflected on in a recent interview with The Scotsman, that he had angled for a move away from Scotstoun, ironically to tomorrow’s opponents, but that is water long under the bridge and he has thrived in the west of Glasgow, claiming a Pro12 winner’s medal in 2015.
The full-back insisted he would not be fazed by the fact he’ll be running out as a home player for the last time.
“It is just about putting in my normal performance. I’ve got a role and responsibility within this team to execute, so hopefully I can get a few opportunities to do that,” he said. “It is going to be tough towards the end, but my focus is to help make sure we have a final to look forward to the week after.
“It would mean a huge deal but more because it is a chance to win some silverware. We’ve played the whole season gunning for silverware, and we’ve got a great opportunity but the first task is Friday night.”
Of course, there are swansong stories from the other side too, notably that of legendary Ulsterman and Ireland captain Rory Best, who will be striving to make his last appearance for the province before his post-World Cup retirement a final rather than semi-final appearance.
“Rory Best has been a great servant to Ulster and Irish rugby. He’s going to be coming here ready to rock and roll,” said Hogg, who has been on Lions tours with the 36-year-old hooker. “He’ll have their boys fired up, but we’ll meet fire with fire and see what they’ve got to offer.
“He’s somebody I’ve got a huge amount of respect for. The guy is an absolute legend. So, we’ll be respectful in the way we approach him but, hopefully, we can spoil the party by getting the win.”
The message among the Warriors squad is that their 30-7 win over Ulster in Glasgow last month is being discounted in a bid to remove any sense of complacency.
“They [Ulster] are a quality team and if you sit off them they are going to get momentum going forward and they are difficult to stop on the back of that,” added Hogg.
“They’ve got some cracking individual players and they really have a good collective team spirit. They are going to be sending off a couple of club legends so they’re going to be up for it.
“For us, it is probably the perfect week to concentrate on ourselves. We need to be solid in defence and clinical in attack like we have been the last couple of weeks. It is knockout rugby now so, if we bugger it up, then we’re done.
“It’s another step closer to achieving something special.”