THIS much can be said for certain about Hibernian:
they have met the issue of a play-off head on. It might well be worth taking Paul Heffernan aside this morning and adding that this is a figure of speech, rather than a diktat. Using one's napper should apply only to ensuring that his side eases past Hamilton Academical in the second leg tomorrow, and not the forehead of an opponent.
Heffernan has previous in play-offs and the details can be found in an official match report filed with the FA, the Irishman having headbutted Charlie Mulgrew as the pair contested the first leg of the League 1 play-off semi-final in England six years ago. It was an incident which invited a more subtle nod to history yesterday, as Heffernan recalled his record in play-offs ahead of the second leg with Hamilton.
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The striker yesterday sat at a little table inside his club's East Mains training base and was invited to recall a time when he was in the dock; the Dubliner having missed a run out at Wembley as he served a suspension for violent conduct. Back then he was a striker for a Doncaster Rovers side which edged first past Mulgrew's Southend United and then Leeds United in the final to achieve promotion to the Championship.
That is now the name of the league which Heffernan is desperate to avoid as his Hibs team cradles a two-goal advantage from the first leg at New Douglas Park. The forward played the full 90 minutes of that match and was one of the first on the scene to congratulate teenager Jason Cummings for placing the Edinburgh side within one game of a safety.
Heffernan's subsequent suspension meant he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his Doncaster team-mates celebrated in 2008. He has urged his team-mates to keep their cool at Easter Road tomorrow as a result.
"We got promoted with Doncaster but I was suspended for the final," said Heffernan, who has scored just four goals for Hibs this season. "I was sent off for a head-butt in the semi-final, the first leg. I was suspended for the second leg of the semi, the final at Wembley and the first game of the new season.
"It was Charlie Mulgrew. He was at Southend at the time, on loan from Wolves. It was a bad day for me. What did he do to provoke me? It was at the end of the game and he was just kind of in my face and I just had a little nod of the head. The referee was looking straight at it and had no option. To be fair, he had to send me off. It was just a rush of blood to the head.
"Obviously it was disappointing for me, personally, to miss the play-off final because you don't get many chances to play at Wembley, however good your career is. We beat Leeds 1-0 on the day, in front of a full house at Wembley, so it was a great day for the club . . . just disappointing that I had to watch it."
He has cast an eye around training since Hibs' win on Wednesday night and has witnessed a group of players working without the burden of a torrid league record. Hibs had gone 13 matches without a win until they alighted in Lanarkshire and goals from Cummings have inspired the squad.
"There is a big difference in the mood," Heffernan added. "It was nice to get a win because, obviously, we've not won a lot of games in the last few months. It was great to finally get one. We know that it's far from over, only half-time in the tie, and there is plenty of work still to be done.
"Hamilton are a good side who were probably the better team in the first half the other night. They caused us a lot of problems. I'm sure they'll be looking forward to coming to Easter Road and doing the same again. We will be fully prepared for that."
Terry Butcher will reiterate to his players tomorrow that the tie is far from over. "There is an element of danger," said the Hibs manager. "I think we approach it as if it's a one-off game, and just say 'right, we want to win this match'."
It will be a simple message and the sentiment will likely be echoed across the hall in Hamilton's dressing room. The visitors will be faced with another season in a much tougher Championship should they prove unable to turn the tie around and there are few inclined to wait for a chance to get into the top flight.
Among them is Darian McKinnon, the midfielder who was playing amateur football just four years ago. He was recruited from junior side Clydebank in 2012 and, at 28, is eager to make up for lost time in his career.
"I've gone from amateur to junior and from the first division to challenging for the Premiership in the space of a few years - that's stuff dreams are made off," said McKinnon. "I have to pinch myself at times when you consider where I've come from. I am challenging at the top end of the Championship with Hamilton and playing against a top team like Hibs, who you are used to watching on the television.
"It would be brilliant to test ourselves in the top flight and see what we can do. You don't just want to have the comfort zone of the Championship, we have played at that level and know we can do it."