BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Robbie Neilson’s Hampden heroics broke the heart of a 13-year-old Gavin Reilly – but he reckons the Tynecastle boss will make amends by turning him into a Premiership star.
As a Dumfries local, Reilly was a die-hard Gretna supporter as a boy and was in the crowd at the national stadium in 2006 when their ill-fated fairytale saw them reach the Scottish Cup final.
Neilson’s last-ditch tackle on David Graham has gone down in Hearts folklore as one of the defining moments in the contest as Valdas Ivanauskas’ side went on to triumph on penalties.
Reilly even enjoyed a loan spell with Gretna 2008 – the new incarnation of the Borders club – in the 2010/11 campaign.
After penning a three-year deal at Tynecastle yesterday, he can appreciate the irony of Neilson being the man who has handed him a maiden crack at the top level of Scottish football.
He recalled: “When I was young I used to follow Gretna, although I always had a soft spot for Queens. I went to Hampden with my family and friends, who are all from Gretna.
“The local community all went and it was a massive day out despite the eventual outcome. I was only 13-years-old at the time but, yes, I do remember Robbie’s tackle! All Gretna fans do. I remember Gavin Skelton missing that penalty as well.
“Thinking back to watching Robbie as a player in that game, and to now be coached by him, it just shows you how quickly football can change.
“I would never have thought back then I’d one day sign for Hearts.”
Reilly’s Gretna woe is the tip of the iceberg in terms of his nightmare trips to Mouth Florida, and the ambitious forward would love to put a few things right in maroon this season.
He added: “I’ve not had many happy Hampden memories, to be honest. I watched Gretna and Queens lose cup finals – and I lost 8-0 to Celtic with Queen of the South’s Under-19s in the Youth Cup final! I would like to change that and hopefully this season.”
Reilly’s protracted deal was finally completed after a development fee was agreed with Queen of the South.
And Reilly, who racked up 15 goals for Queens in the Championship last term, is arriving in Gorgie was lofty ambitions, insisting he hopes to be preparing for a tilt at European football this time next year.
He added: “They cruised the Championship last year and – although the aim is to make the top six – I feel we could go even a wee bit further than that.
“From what I’ve seen of this team and from playing against them, I don’t see why we couldn’t get a European spot.”