WHILE some around Hibernian are fretting about the unlikely but not entirely impossible scenario that they could yet finish second bottom of the SPFL Premiership this season, it was typical of Terry Butcher that he should be more preoccupied with dreaming of finishing second-top next season.
Unburdened by debt, with all the infrastructure in place and with some impressive young players to build around, Butcher looks at the way Derek McInnes has transformed Aberdeen from habitual bottom-six dwellers to the best of the rest in the last 12 months and sees something to aspire to.
"I said that to the players today," Butcher said ahead of to today's Edinburgh derby. "I said it's very much what we want next year, it's what we want to do. Aberdeen were in the bottom six last season but have had a resurgence, as have Dundee United. If we can get Hibs back up there again, that would be brilliant. That's our aim. Aberdeen have given us the perfect template to follow."
Today's match at Tynecastle will be no ordinary Edinburgh derby, of course, with Hibs having the power to officially relegate Hearts to the second tier for the first time since the 1982-83 season. In the short term at least, such a fate will be greeted gleefully by a travelling support which had to endure the ordeal of a 5-1 Scottish Cup final defeat at the hands of their rivals.
Taking all three points this afternoon would also have the effect of distancing Hibs further from the relegation play-off place and end a dismal run of six games without a win. But the wider context for the neutral Scottish football follower is the loss of another building block of the domestic game, the Edinburgh derby, with the Old Firm and Dundee equivalents already in mothballs.
While Butcher is determined to sample the unique atmosphere as an opposition derby manager at Tynecastle at least once - the one further meeting between the teams this season will be at Easter Road - he knows the fixture will return in time. If boxing is Butcher's metaphor of choice, then Hearts are well and truly on the ropes.
"We're not looking at the relegation issue, we are just looking at it as one game," he said, a 2-1 winner at Easter Road in his only exposure to the derby to date. "It's like a boxing match, with two boxers slugging it out, as far as we're concerned. The relegation issue doesn't really concern us.
"You will lose the big crowds and money and things like that I suppose but Rangers will come back up eventually and Hearts will be back and you just have to carry on in the meantime and do what you can do.
"Maurice Malpas and I have a very good record at Tynecastle with Motherwell and Caley Thistle but I don't think it will be quite the same circumstance on Sunday. It will be going into the lion's den, with tin hats on, but it is to be savoured and enjoyed. They [the fans near the technical area at Tynecastle] are not on my Christmas card list. That is why I let Maurice go out: I just sit in the dug-out and watch."
Young Hibs defender Jordon Forster is one man who will mourn the absence of the Edinburgh derby - and not just because he made his debut in a 2-1 win at Tynecastle last season. "Ask any footballer if they would rather have a derby or not and they'd say 'yeah'," Forster said. "People might say it's wrong that I don't want [Hearts] to go down, but I'd rather play in big games. I'd rather there was a derby next year."
If there is still an Edinburgh derby next year, things will have gone terribly wrong for Hibs.