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Final countdown to heaven or hell

EVERYBODY is looking forward to Saturday's William Hill Scottish Cup final.

Rudi Skacel's opener against Celtic in the semi-final set Hearts on course for a showdown with their Edinburgh rivals as Hibs bid to end a 110-year cup hoodoo Photograph: SNS
Rudi Skacel's opener against Celtic in the semi-final set Hearts on course for a showdown with their Edinburgh rivals as Hibs bid to end a 110-year cup hoodoo Photograph: SNS

Everybody, that is, apart from the supporters of both clubs. I know a lot of Hearts fans while some of my best pals who I go golfing with are Hibs fans and both sets of supporters are utterly dreading it because they both know they will never get over it if they get beaten. Which is why this showpiece is so fascinating to the neutral. Hearts and Hibs fans would always say the first Edinburgh derby final since 1896 is bigger than an Old Firm final and on this occasion it probably is, just because of the circumstances surrounding it.

The story is written for both Edinburgh sides. In the Tynecastle club's case, Hibs are about to win their first Scottish Cup for 110 years and who should turn up in the final to stop them and make it 111? Their biggest rivals.

Alternatively, you have the Hibs fans who have gone 110 years without winning it, and their thinking is you don't just win it but you stop that rot once and for all by beating your biggest rivals. What is beyond doubt is that one half of the capital's fans are going to be delirious and the others are going to be on the street of despair.

There will be a lot of boyhood supporters of both teams playing on the day – Hibs have the likes of Leigh Griffiths, Garry O'Connor and Paul Hanlon while Hearts have guys like Ian Black – and the stakes are so high there has to be a chance that things could turn nasty. This is a powderkeg game because whatever happens, the outcome is never going to be forgotten. I know even Hibs and Hearts fans themselves will forget some derbies, but this game is going to be remembered forever.

I hope it doesn't boil over, but I just think back to what I was like as a player in those circumstances; you would do absolutely anything not to get beaten in a game like that.

I suppose the closest I ever came was Scotland v England in the Euro 1999 play-off. Okay, so it is not a life or death, but remember you are playing against the Auld Enemy. I am not sure I could ever live it down if I was a Hearts or Hibs player and I lost in the final. But you can't get caught up in the circus and start thinking about what might happen if you lose, because quite simply you will not perform on the day.

Without a doubt, Hearts have the better squad, they have won all three derby meetings this season and have had a far better season in the SPL, but fate is fate.

I have a feeling Hibs are going to win. The Easter Road side have had their cup hoodoo thrown at them so often that my gut instincts tell me Hearts could be haunted forever by this end-of-season finale.

It has taken more time than Pat Fenlon might have hoped to put fears of relegation behind him. He should have been enjoying his cup build-up a couple of weeks ago, but their victory over Dunfermline on Monday was actually perfect timing, giving him a good solid 13-day prep time for this match. He has taken his side to Dublin to get away from the hype, which is a good idea.

Losing a cup final to Hibs would be a huge black mark against Hearts manager Paulo Sergio, but I don't think it should be the determining factor on whether he stays or goes. For me, he has been a really good manager, and has been excellent at keeping all the financial troubles away from the players.

There are plenty of match-winners in both teams. Griffiths and O'Connor tick the boxes for Hibs up front, while James McPake could be equally important defensively. The former Livingston player at times seems to have single-handedly kept them up and will be a huge player in the final because I expect Hearts to have the bulk of the possession.

As for Hearts, I have been very impressed with Craig Beattie since he came to the club. He has given them a physical presence they have missed since Kevin Kyle got injured. Ian Black will get a big move because he is a decent player, and Rudi Skacel is always a threat. Both sets of fans should be looking forward to one of the biggest days in their club's history, but they aren't because they both know how bad it will feel next Sunday morning if they get beaten.

IT was sad this week to see Motherwell's Stephen Craigan quit football. He is a fit boy, is only 35, and for me could have had another couple of years. He was never a gifted player, but big Crags made the best of what he had. You could put him in the same mould as David Weir. Give me 11 Stephen Craigans any week, rather than a Derek Riordan or a Willie Gibson, guys who have all the talent in the world, but have thrown it away.

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