Andy Halliday ready to create Hampden Park memories with Hearts with 2016 Hibs final in the past
As Andy Halliday heads back to Hampden Park as a Hearts player for Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs, he returns to a venue which has brought some of his toughest on-pitch moments during his career.
The four previous times he stepped on to the Mount Florida pitch – all representing boyhood club Rangers – ended in heartache. Three times he has been on the losing end of an Old Firm derby.
The fourth occasion was part of the Mark Warburton team (in)famously defeated by Hibs in 2016.
That day in May could have been different for the 29-year-old. After ducking away from two opponents, his howitzer of a left ping put the Ibrox side ahead against Alan Stubbs’ men with under 30 minutes left on the clock.
Yet, in the final ten minutes Hibs turned the game on its end and Halliday was given a painstaking view of the winner as the closest Rangers player to David Gray who headed past Wes Foderingham to seal a 3-2 win.
Ever since, the Easter Road supporters have sung about that success with Halliday’s name included in the lyrics.
Therefore it is easy to assume or imagine the player eyeing Saturday’s showdown as a personal mission to avenge those memories.
Not about me, all about Hearts
That, however, is not the case.
Saturday presents a new opportunity as part of a new club in a new era of his career.
Halliday, who started his first game of football since February in the 1-0 win over Arbroath, won’t be running out at Hampden Park thinking about his past as a Rangers player but the possibilities as a Hearts player.
“It isn’t about me, it is about Hearts and knowing how important is for everyone at this club,” he said. “You want to win every competition you enter but it is special that it is Hibs at Hampden in a semi-final.
"For me, I want to win my first major trophy. The ones I have won so far won’t mean as much as winning one of the major honours.
“The Hibs game in 2016 is in the past, but it was disappointing.
"This is a new occasion, I always look to the future and I want to win my first major honour.
“It will be difficult as there are other teams in the competition who are fancied more than us but we have the belief we can win this game.”
it would be remiss to suggest that Hampden Park is some sort of Mordor for Halliday. The player has enjoyed success in G42, including a goalscoring performance in a Challenge Cup win over Peterhead and netting a penalty in a Scottish Cup semi final shootout win over Celtic.
Such experiences, good and bad, will stand him and the squad as a whole in good stead, especially in a game which calls for cool heads.
“Experience counts in these games,” Halliday said. “We have boys with that and quality who will help us in all departments.
"We have a lot of young boys and for some of them this will probably be their first semi final and first game at Hampden. They will lean on the boys like Craig Gordon and Steven Naismith and I am sure it will help them.”
Halliday has been a popular signing amongst many Hearts fans. Even before his arrival there was no doubt that he understood the club and what was required.
That was clear in his message ahead of the Championship v Premiership clash with regards to which team is favourites.
“Some people will say we are underdogs but we don’t,” he said. “Expectations are at a big club and we are putting demands on ourselves.
"We aren’t going into it with an underdog mentality, we want to cause an upset and we believe with the group of players we have that we can do that. If we play well we can more than match Hibs.
“I see two teams who are going to go and win the game.
"The first 15 minutes will be important for us. In derby games you expect both themes to fly out the traps.
“Hibs have played more games than we have, so they will try and beat us to the punch, We have to be on our guard and I am sure the gaffer has a game plan ready and if we stick to it hopefully the result will take care of itself.”
“It will be a tough ask as Hibs are a good team and doing well so far in the league.”
The pre-match build up and start won’t be impacted by an atmospheric crowd with an empty Hampden Park set to be an eerie place on Hallowe’en night.
Halliday, who won’t attract the attention of Hibs fans during those 90 or more minutes, noticed how a lack of crowd played its part in the Old Firm derby earlier this month.
“I seem to be the focus for a lot of away fans in the country but I miss the fans,” he said. “I miss the boos, the cheers, I miss it all. We all want the fans back in as soon as we can.
“This season is huge and it is a disappointment they aren’t here.
“I have watched loads of football and I have only played a few games with no fans. It doesn’t have the same feel to it.
"You can understand why most games have some flatness in it. I was surprised when it came in the Old Firm game, I wasn’t expecting that.
"It is probably the only one I can remember there not being a few challenges. It is up to us as players to realise the importance of the game and get up to the derby intensity.”