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Keeping cool in the heat of the moment

The irony seemed lost on Jamie Hamill.

He was occupied more with the prospect of winning a League Cup match with Ayr United.

That is a second-round tie in a national cup competition but also a matter of local rivalry: Kilmarnock host Ayr United this evening, only the fifth time the bitter neighbours have met in this century. Kilmarnock lost none of the previous four, with the most recent derby triumph resulting in a place in the 2012 League Cup final. And a good deal of acrimony.

Hamill is confident that the Rugby Park side can progress in the competition once more this season by first beating Ayr, but only if his team-mates can control their emotions and remain calm. These sentiments were articulated coolly, as though to emphasise the point, although the words would still jar given their source. Hamill is a doughty player, and one who was sent off twice last season as well as receiving 11 yellow cards.

The Kilmarnock midfielder is an experienced figure in his side too, and one who understands the heated nature of the Ayrshire derby given that he was born in nearby Irvine. Despite a colourful disciplinary record - Hamill was booked 13 times and sent off once during the final season of his first spell at the club - he will still be relied upon to control his more impressionable young team-mates.

For such as Chris Johnston, Rory McKenzie and Robbie Muirhead, this tie will comprise their first experience of a local derby. "It's good to have a bit of local knowledge," said Hamill, who watched from the stands as Kilmarnock overcame Ayr in the 2009 Scottish Cup. "There are a lot of players in the squad who have been to watch the game and they know what it's all about.

"But you have to play the game as if it's a normal game. It is really important that you don't get caught up in the atmosphere. You have to play with a cool head and hopefully we do that and come away with a good result."

Ayr's squad is not without local knowledge either. Indeed, they will be given their instructions from a local legend since Mark Roberts was considered a fans' favourite during eight years at Kilmarnock which included promotion from the first division in 1993.

Now the player-manager of Ayr, Roberts is quite willing to tarnish his reputation at Rugby Park by steering his current side to a surprise victory. "I always find it amusing when people refer to me as a hero to the Kilmarnock fans as it was 14 years ago that I played there," said Roberts, who has Martyn Campbell available again.

"I have not been back many times so I am looking forward to taking Ayr there for the first time as a manager but I think the fans' favourite stuff at Rugby Park is put out to wind up the Ayr fans. Hopefully there will be a lot of Ayr heroes after this game but to do that we need to play at our very best and Kilmarnock need to have an off night. If that happens, we have a chance."

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