A place in the League Cup final would be a fitting reward for Hearts trio Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Ryan Stevenson following their decision to take 50% wage cuts to aid the financially-stricken club's battle for survival.

That is the view of Hearts manager Gary Locke, who insists he will never forget the sacrifice made at the start of the season by the club's three most senior professionals, when it would have been easier to walk away.

Despite a 15-point deduction and a threadbare squad, Locke's few experienced campaigners have never shirked the challenge and Stevenson this week declared he "would play on the moon" for Hearts after turning down a number of January moves elsewhere.

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MacDonald, similarly, has shown no desire to leave the club despite a late - and derisory - £30,000 bid from Oldham Athletic, while Hamill has regained some form in recent weeks after Locke admitted that his performances had suffered from shouldering the burden of helping such a young midfield.

And while much of the focus will undoubtedly be on those youngsters in maroon today as they bid to defeat Inverness and reach an unlikely final, Locke knows his job would have been made immeasurably more difficult without his three key stalwarts.

He said: "Maybe some people have forgotten what they did, but I certainly haven't. It was a worry for me at the time. The fact these three decided to stay showed their commitment to the cause here.

"They are they type of people I want to surround myself with, boys that will give everything. It would have been a struggle if they hadn't.

"They have been massive this season, and especially Jamie Hamill because he's the one that's played the majority of games and outfield he is a leader, he talks.Danny Wilson's the captain and a decent talker, but we haven't got a lot of leaders on the pitch, so Jamie is vital.

"The lack of experience has been our downfall in a few games and if we had a couple of older players who can see games out, it would have given us a better chance. But the fact those three lads took wage cuts and wanted to stay speaks volumes for them."

Another figure Locke has enormous respect for will be stationed in the opposing dugout at Easter Road, John Hughes.

The Hearts manager admits his Inverness counterpart can come across as "a bit mad" and a light-hearted character, but is adamant there is an astute coach buried beneath the jovial facade.

That opinion was largely formed after Hughes delivered an insightful presentation during Locke's UEFA Pro Licence coaching course. He added: "I have a tremendous amount of time for John and believe or not - although he is mad - it is brilliant listening to him talking about the game and his philosophy on the game.

"I listened to him while I was on my Pro Licence, with him talking about his time at Hibs and Falkirk and what he achieved there, and it was really fantastic. I really enjoy his company.

"We have had a bit of banter over the years. I never played against him much in Edinburgh derbies, but I played against him a few times over our careers and it was always a good contest.

"He was somebody who had been out of things for a wee while and I was just as desperate as him to see him back in the game."

Locke made no secret of his disappointment that Tynecastle legend Rudi Skacel will not be allowed to join the club for a third spell, following a ruling from the SPFL on Thursday.

However, he believes the sheer presence of the mercurial Czech, who scored in the Scottish Cup finals of 2006 and 2012, in training for the last fortnight could still prove pivotal to those who take the field against Inverness today.

He added: "The manager can help you, but training with these types of players day in and day out can make you a better player and for the last couple of weeks Rudi has been a great help in that respect on the training pitch."