BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
For the majority of the Hibernian squad, the sight of three sides of Tynecastle rooting in their favour will be a wholly peculiar one. For James Keatings, on the other hand, it will all feel rather familiar.
He reckons he might even get his old peg.
The 24-year-old was a firm favourite during his sole season at Hearts, scoring 11 goals in 33 appearances following his switch from Hamilton.
With Osman Sow injured and Genero Zeefuik yet to arrive on loan from Groningen to such devastating effect, Keatings shouldered the burden of responsibility in attack for the Jambos during the Festive fixtures of 2014.
Nevertheless, he ended his contract with Hearts 12 months early by mutual agreement last summer, having become disillusioned by the idea of a rotation role in the top flight, and crossed the capital divide.
He admits he did not expect such a swift return to Gorgie, nor in this manner, as he prepares to cross swords with St Johnstone at the home of Hearts.
“It will be strange to see three sides of the stadium full of Hibs fans,” he smiled. “But it’s good we’ll have that backing and hopefully they can have a big influence.
“Someone said we’d been allocated the home dressing room at Tynecastle, so it won’t take me long to settle in. I can go and sit under my own peg!
“Given I played there last year it’s all good – and the away dressing room is tiny. It’s good if we’re in the home one, with more space.
“It’s a good pitch too – or at least it was last time I was on it! The fans are really close to the pitch so you hear everything. It’s been known for the atmosphere for years now. It lives up to the hype.
“I didn’t expect it to be back at Tynecastle so quickly and I’m looking forward to playing the game and hopefully reaching the final.”
To do so, Hibs will need to navigate a St Johnstone side seemingly determined to cast themselves as the plucky underdogs in this semi-final narrative, despite their Premiership status and the fact they ran the current Championship leaders, Rangers, ragged earlier this season.
“I think that is mind games from Tommy Wright,” insisted Keatings. “They’re in the league above us and sitting in a good position.
“They might not be in the best of form but they’re in the league above us for a reason and I’m sure they’ll be favourites.
“They’ve been in this situation so they’ll be used to it. They know what it takes to win the Scottish Cup.”
In Michael O’Halloran, the Perth Saints also boast one of the most potent and talked-about attackers in Scottish football. Teammates together at Celtic, Keatings knows all about the 25-year-old’s quality.
“We’ve seen the rumours all week about him,” he continued. “But it’s not something we’ve looked at. We’re just focusing on ourselves and trying to take that into the game.
“I watched St Johnstone in the game against Rangers and they were very good. I know Michael from coming through the ranks together at Celtic. He was the year above me.
“He’s a quality player and is showing it this year. It’ll be a tough game and he’ll be ready for it.”
Hibs certainly do not lack firepower of their own, as evidenced by Keatings and Anthony Stokes climbing from the bench to combine for the Irishman to put the seal on a 3-1 win over St Mirren.
“You only have to watch [Stokes] in training this week to see his quality,” he added. “The way he holds the ball up and brings others into the game.
“I was with him at Celtic, when I was coming through as a young boy. Even then I looked up to him as a player in my position. It’s a massive statement from the club to bring in a player of his quality.”