Paul Hanlon hoping to build on Hibs' 2016 Scottish Cup heroics as he faces up to city rivals

Hibs fans enjoyed the occasion so much that they still sing a song taunting Hearts about it.

Hibs' Paul Hanlon poses with the Scottish Cup ahead of the weekend semi-final against Hearts. Photo by Mark Scates/SNS Group
Hibs' Paul Hanlon poses with the Scottish Cup ahead of the weekend semi-final against Hearts. Photo by Mark Scates/SNS Group

That day in February 2016, in the 90th minute of a typically full-on Capital derby, Paul Hanlon swung a leg at a loose ball and sent his shot into the net to pry a replay from the jaws of defeat.

It was the fifth round of that season’s Scottish Cup and, coming back from a 2-0 half-time deficit courtesy of goals from Jason Cummings and then Hanlon, they went on to win the replay at Easter Road. Alan Stubbs’ side never looked back.

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That run culminated with Hanlon finally getting the opportunity to hoist the silverware at Hampden and end the club’s 114-year Scottish Cup hoodoo.

Which renders Hanlon’s stoppage time intervention at Tynecastle all the more memorable.

“It’s not something I speak about too much, to be honest,” said the man who heads to the national stadium for the delayed semi-final of last season’s tournament, intent on making another crucial impression against Hibs’ capital rivals, in the hope it ultimately garners more cup glory.

“I know it’s a goal that ended up meaning a bit more because we went on to lift the trophy. But at the time there were a lot of other big moments and rounds to get through.

“Obviously, personally, when I think of moments playing against Hearts, it’s right up there with the best I have had. But in terms of going on to win the cup, there were a lot of moments that built up to that. My last minute goal was one of them.”

It was one step on the way back from the doldrums. At the time the club was still stuck in the Championship, but having exorcised their cup demons, the Leith outfit went on to secure promotion, earn a place in Europe and although there have been managerial changes and a conveyor belt of team-mates who have come and gone since that day, Hanlon is one of those who have stuck it out.

And, he believes that they are now in a position to consolidate their place at the right end of the Premiership and add to the trophy cabinet.

Keep the momentum

“A lot of hard work has gone on at this club ever since we got relegated, to be honest. The club has come on massively during that time frame, as shown by us winning the cup and being promoted to where we are now.

“We are in a strong position through the first set of fixtures and we need to carry that on now and take it into the weekend.”

In a role reversal of the 2016 derby cup tie, this time it is Hibs who are riding the crest of a wave, while foes Hearts are having to adapt to their more lowly surroundings, having been plonked into the second tier when last season’s league campaign was prematurely curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The respective league positions have little impact on the 2016 meeting and Hanlon is not convinced it will be relevant this time around either.

Leagues don’t really matter

“During that time, we had a bit of history of beating Premiership clubs so there was no fear from us going into those games back then and I’m sure Hearts will feel the same.

“They’ll have confidence they can beat us and we’re full of confidence we can beat them. That’s probably just how it goes, to be honest.

“I think both sides will treat it the way an Edinburgh derby should be treated. There will be a respect between the two teams. But we are rivals and at the end of the day we’re both desperate to win.

“To be honest, looking at their squad, it’s one that could compete in the Premiership, there’s no doubt about that. So there’s absolutely no chance we’ll be taking this lightly just because they are playing in a different division this year.”

Hanlon is a player who has seen it all at Hibs, suffering through the bad times and relishing the good. The defender is on a high having made his long-awaited debut for Scotland in the recent qualifiers and helped Hibs to a bright start to the season, as part of a backline that appears to find conceding goals repugnant.

Goals have not been given away easily, with the Leith side boasting clean sheets in 50 per cent of their league games. But Hanlon has been bruised by enough derby losses, including the humiliation of the 5-1 Scottish Cup final in 2012, to underestimate the challenge of any derby meeting.

But, given the mood in the Hibs camp, backed up by the results and resolute performances this term, he says he has probably never felt more confident going into a capital head to head of this magnitude.

Hibs’ tails are up

“With the form we’ve shown and the way the season’s gone so far, I think it probably doesn’t matter who we were playing this weekend, we would be going into it confident anyway.

“But, the manager’s great with us - keeping our confidence levels high but at the same time making us aware of what wins us games. He hammers that home to us regularly and I’m sure he’ll be reminding us of everything we’ve done well and everything we need to be aware of, in terms of Hearts.”

Those are the realities but when it comes to cup runs and derbies there is also the fantasy.

“I think that is why we play football. Everyone dreams of scoring the winning goal in these big fixtures.”

It felt like a winning goal that day at Tynecastle, in 2016, but now, he has the chance to go one better.

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