By Alan Temple, Spain – @CCP_Sport
Alan Combe does not require any reminder of the last time Hibernian won a major trophy. He is taken back to that day, arguably the worst of his professional career, every time he steps out of his office.
Combe, 41, was the Kilmarnock goalkeeper in the CIS Cup final of 2007 as Jim Jefferies’ side succumbed to a miserable 5-1 defeat at Hampden.
The rout began when towering captain Rob Jones rose above a statuesque defence to break the deadlock. An Abdessalam Benjelloun brace followed, while Steven Fletcher found the net.
But the nadir of the afternoon for Combe was saved for the final goal, which saw him as he miss-kick a clearance straight to Fletcher, allowing the future Scotland internationalist to bag his second of the afternoon.
While he would happily consign that encounter to the history books, Combe, now Hibs goalkeeping coach, comes face to face with a photograph of Jones’ elated expression, mid-celebration, every single morning.
Little wonder he is desperate for Hibs to create some new League Cup heroes – and get a few new pictures hung – by defeating Ross County on Sunday.
“There are pictures of it everywhere,” he smiles. “Right outside the office there’s a picture of Rob Jones running away after the first goal, so I have to see that every day. Thankfully, there’s no pictures of the fifth one!
“They’re quite right to have the pictures up. They won a cup and they won it comfortably, so they’ve got to show it off.”
While he can escape a photograph, it is much tougher to shake off kitman Tam McCourt.
“Wee Tam [McCourt] brings it up all the time,” smiles Combe, in relaxed, affable mood at Hibs’ warm weather training camp in the Costa del Sol.
“There’s a big picture in the kit room at Easter Road of the two teams before the game which was taken from the back of the main stand at Hampden. It’s a lovely big picture that shows the whole arena.
“But, because I had a red top on, you can pick me out straight away. Every time I walk in there, wee Tam’s like “who’s that?”, winding me up about it. You can look back now and have a laugh about.”
He can afford to smile. After all, nine years have passed since that fateful afternoonin Mount Florida. It was, however, no laughing matter at the time.
“It was a horrible day. If you’re a professional footballer and you get beat 5-1 in a final, that’s never good. It wasn’t nice for a good couple of weeks after that,” the boyhood Hibs fan continues.
“A cup final’s a reward for doing all the hard work to get there, but second place doesn’t get you anything.
“It was my first major final and I was probably a bit too focused. I didn’t enjoy the day. When you get to a final, you should try and enjoy the occasion and then focus when the game kicks off.
“I wasn’t able to enjoy the crowd or anything like that when I was walking out. I was just looking at the ball and I was too focused. It’s easy in hindsight, but I would definitely approach it differently if I ever had to play a final again.”
As well as his nightmare with Killie, he was goalkeeping coach at Hearts when they were defeated 3-2 by St Mirren in the League Cup final of 2013.
He is visibly determined to emerge from a Hampden showpiece as a winner and, to that end, his role will primarily to ensure Hibs’ number one, Mark Oxley, is ready to rise to the challenge of his first ever major cup final.
“It would mean everything to win on Sunday. You want success as a coach just as much as you want it as a player,” he added. “This would mean as much to me as anything I did as a player.
“You want to be part of history and if you win a cup you go down in history. If you’ve played a part in that, it proves you’re doing something right.
“I don’t worry about Mark [Oxley]. It’s up to me now to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind. He’s a very, very strong character, so I know he’ll be focused on the day. In my opinion, the big man’s had a great season.”