BILLY STARK, the Queen's Park manager, was last night credited with having helped transform the career of Paul Hartley by moving him from wide right into a central midfield area when the pair were at St Johnstone.

The Hearts midfielder, who is likely to be one of the most influential players in tomorrow's Tennent's Scottish Cup final against Gretna, said the change of position was a major factor in his recent success.

"It took Billy Stark to find my true role, " said Hartley, who has 17 goals for Hearts this season and one for Scotland. "I was very inconsistent as a wide player earlier in my career. Since I moved into the middle of the park with St Johnstone, I have been very consistent.

"Ask any central midfielder and you are more involved in the game because, as a wide player, you are out of the picture a lot and you maybe don't see the ball for 20 to 25 minutes. I went into central midfield and found the position I wanted to play."

Hartley admitted his confidence was transformed by having more responsibility on the park and felt he had found his spiritual home and his true role at Tynecastle after spells at Raith Rovers, Millwall, St Johnstone and Hibs.

"I never asked anybody to play in central midfield before Billy suggested it, " said Hartley. "Maybe I was too quiet, I don't know, but Billy saw something in me and it worked."

So just what did Stark see in Hartley, and why did he move him from wide right to a central midfield role?

"I could see Paul had a good engine on him, could get into goalscoring positions, had a good tactical brain, and wanted to be involved more, " said Stark.

"I remember he always loved training and would run all day, every day, for you. Playing wide right must have been frustrating for him as he had so much energy, so I thought I would harness that drive and energy and play him in central midfield.

"Having said that, although it is nice for Paul to mention my decision to move his position, his success is really down to him. He always had the ability and his recent fantastic performances simply show the natural talent he always had."

Hartley said the Scottish Cup final was a vital match for his club as the Hearts support deserved some silverware. "If we win the Scottish Cup it will mean everything to me, " said Hartley.

"The fans have been crying out for success and it has been eight years since Hearts won a trophy, which is far too long.

Having said that, the final against Gretna will be difficult.

"They have had a lot of criticism just because their owner is wealthy, just like ours. Some people say they have bought their way to the championship but you must have the correct players to win the league and you must give him credit.

"Our attitude must be spot- on and if we do that we will win, but if we are off the pace, we could lose. We must play at a high tempo and get our attitude just right."

Another Hearts player who is hoping for Scottish Cup success is full-back Robbie Neilson. He was in the Hearts youth team back in 1998 when the Tynecastle outfit last won the Scottish Cup after beating Rangers at Parkhead.

"The youth team won the Scottish Cup against Dundee United and we paraded our trophy round Tynecastle on the same day as the first team, " said Neilson. "Tynecastle was packed that day and it would be great to go back there after this Saturday's final with the Scottish Cup."

Neilson has missed just one Hearts game and knows a cup final win would set the seal on a terrific campaign. "This has been a great year for Hearts, with us beating Rangers to second place, " he said. "To finish it off with a Scottish Cup win would be terrific."