BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibernian captain David Gray admits he has been itching to return to Hampden for 13 years – and he is determined to ensure it has been worth the wait by lifting the League Cup on Sunday.
Gray, now 27, featured in a Victory Shield stalemate against England in 2003 as a fresh-faced 15-year-old.
Scotland’s schoolboys, who also counted Hibs stalwart Lewis Stevenson among their numbers that day, claimed a 1-1 draw against an Auld Enemy side which included Micah Richards and Theo Walcott.
Although such a fixture is not regularly played in the vast expanses of the national stadium, the fixture was held at Hampden to celebrate the centenary of the home nations’ youth showpiece.
And Gray has been desperate to return to Mount Florida ever since. He was heartbroken when a hamstring injury ruled him out of last season’s ill-fated Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk, which Hibs lost 1-0 in his absence.
At the time, he feared his Hampden dream was dead – so he will be beaming with pride when he finally realises a career aspiration and leads the Hibees out against Ross County.
He said: “I have played in play-offs and fixtures like that, but not an actual cup final. It was disappointing last year to miss out on the Scottish Cup semi-final last year through injury, so to get the opportunity to go back to Hampden is great.
“I played there when I was 15 in the Victory Shield against England, which we drew. But being down south I have never had the chance to get back there. That is a massive positive for me.
“I wondered at the time if my chance had gone, I didn’t know if I had maybe missed my chance to play in the Scottish Cup final. However, I tried to see the bigger picture as saw we were putting a very good side together.
“I knew straight away at the start of the season with the recruitment going on and the backing from the club we would have a great chance of doing well again this season.”
However, Gray is acutely aware that, with over 30,000 Hibees flocking along the M8 hoping to see their side lift a major trophy for the first time in nine years, that reaching the showpiece is only half the battle.
He continued: “Getting to the final is one thing, now we need to make sure we go on and finish the job.
“It would be a great achievement. For me personally I think you can go through your whole career and not have a chance to win anything. So to have a chance to win something . . . that’s what you get remembered for. And all the players know they have a chance to do that tomorrow.
“These opportunities don’t come around that often. We have a young squad, so a lot of them won’t have won a lot of things. As your career flies by this is something you can always keep with you and remember.
“It would be great for the fans, too. They’ve had their disappointments – even going back two seasons ago, getting relegated. That was a real tough time for the club.
“We have been successful in the last year, slowly building up again and the fans are coming back in their numbers.
“They are getting something to shout about and something to cheer and support every week. They have been great for us home and away this season and to give them something back, there is no better day out than a day at Hampden.”
Gray is adamant Hibs have nothing to fear in their bid to claim another Premiership scalp.
The capital club have been sensational against top-flight opposition this term, dumping Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone on their way to Sunday’s final and defeating Hearts in the Scottish Cup before taking Inverness to a replay.
He added: “There won’t be fear. We have to manage the occasion. There will be two teams who will think they are capable of winning the game, which will set up a real cracker for the neutral.
“We know if we play as well as we can, we are a match for anybody.”