AS a Hibernian supporter himself, Paul Hanlon has admitted that he is unlikely to ever experience the same sort of raw emotion as he did in the aftermath of the club’s last-gasp Scottish Cup final win over Rangers in 2016. But as an achievement, he believes it can be topped.

Hibs are back in the Scottish Cup final for the first time since that long-awaited triumph, and this time, their legions of fans who made the occasion so special five years ago will be absent.

Hanlon can’t deny that will take a little bit of lustre off the day itself, but with Hibs in line for a third-placed finish in the Premiership, he reckons that if they manage to lift the Scottish Cup once more, the feat will surpass anything they have accomplished in the 31-year-old’s long stay at the club. And perhaps anything the club have ever done before.

“If we were to do both this year, finishing third and winning the Cup, that would be my best season,” Hanlon said. “No doubt about that.

“Obviously it’s been difficult with Covid restrictions, a tough season for everyone involved in football, with a lot of uncertainty for everyone. But, if we could finish off the season that way, it would definitely be my best achievement as a Hibs player – and maybe our best ever season.”

Before they can cast their minds towards that final meeting with St Johnstone then, the Hibs players must first get the job done in the league, and they travel to fourth-placed Aberdeen on Wednesday night knowing that a win will seal that coveted third place in the table.

“It’s huge for us to finish third,” said Hanlon. “I think it’s 16 years since Hibs finished that high up the table, so it would be a massive achievement.

“I’ve never finished in that position as a first-team player, so it’s massive for us. But it’s where the club wants to be – and where the club should be.

“It’s just up to us to finish that job off come Wednesday.”

If striker Kevin Nisbet can shrug off a knock picked up during his star turn at Hampden in Saturday’s semi-final win over Dundee United, then that can only strengthen their case.

The striker was outstanding, scoring Hibs’ first goal and contributing to their second, rather making a mockery of claims by former Easter Road hero John Collins in the lead up to the game that the forward had to work harder for his teammates. If Hanlon’s view is anything to go by, Nisbet’s work-rate doesn’t seem to be something that is unduly concerning them.

“I had played against him in some pre-season friendlies,” he said. “I knew who he was and his goal scoring record in the Championship was brilliant.

“If you look at the way he scores goals, including in the semi-final, it’s just natural. So it was a no-brainer for Hibs to look at him, the quality he had.

“He’s worked so hard, came to the club so fit and sharp, got off to flier. He’s now got a Scotland cap and is being linked with moves away from the club already.

“It’s been an upward trajectory for him – and it will continue.”

Another player who has been catching the eye for the Hibees this term is 18-year-old Josh Doig, so much so in fact that he was named the Scottish Football Writers Association young player of the year on Sunday. The full-back is undoubtedly benefitting from the guidance of the older heads around him, as Hanlon admitted that the biggest challenge of playing alongside Doig is keeping him on his leash.

“He’s just developing consistency now,” he said. “His athletic ability is second to none – he can handle these games physically, no problem.

“It’s just about wee tweaks positionally, especially at certain times when we were under the cosh a bit against United; he can hold his position a bit better. That’s all learning that he’ll get from playing more games.

“But, in terms of attributes, physicality, appetite to learn, he’s got the lot. My job is to play alongside him, help him as much as possible, talk him through the games.

“When we let him off the leash and he goes forward, he’s such a threat with that pace, that strength and that delivery.”

The only downside of course to having stand-out performers at a club like Hibs is that they catch plenty of eyes elsewhere, and Hanlon is realistic enough to know that the vultures will be circling for the likes of Nisbet and Doig come the summer transfer window.

“It happens, especially at Hibs,” he said. “Over the years, even back to when I was going to games as a fan, we were known as a club who produced good young players. And eventually bigger clubs come in. That’s the way it is with a club like Hibs.

“But we did a lot of good work in January to fend off that interest in some of our players. The boys involved managed to stay focused on success for Hibs, which is great.

“They know that, if they’re successful here for a good Hibs team in the Scottish Premiership, maybe win the Scottish Cup, it will attract interest – and it already has.

“Whatever happens in the summer happens. But there’s a squad full of boys in there desperate to be successful for Hibs right away.”