BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Lewis Stevenson has resisted the temptation to show his son, Louie, pictures from Hibs’ 2007 League Cup triumph. After all, he doesn’t think his wee boy would recognise him.
Rosey-cheeked, long-haired and sporting a shirt at least one size too large; the 19-year-old Stevenson who claimed man of the match during that 5-1 win over Kilmarnock certainly bears little resemblance to the bearded stalwart who will occupy the left-back slot for Hibernian today.
He now realises how precious that win was. With the self-assurance of youth, he assumed further glories would be ten-a-penny and the moment passed in the blink of an eye.
It is a mistake he will not make again if Hibs emerge victorious from today’s Hampden showpiece against Ross County.
Louie, 4, and one-year-old daughter Luna will be at Hampden along with his wife Julia and, after enduring some lows during his time at Easter Road, it would mean the world to doting dad Stevenson if he could celebrate a major trophy with his family.
He smiled: “I don’t think my wee boy [Louie] would even recognise me from the photos of the last time I won the League Cup. I had that long barnet and a baby-face so he’d be wondering who it is! It doesn’t look much like his dad.
“But hopefully he can see me lifting the cup at Hampden in the flesh. Football can be a very tough game sometimes but, if you can get over the line, sharing those moments with your loved ones makes it all worthwhile.
“My family – although I didn’t have my kids at the time – and all my friends probably thought the same as me after the 2007 final: ‘we’ll be celebrating this again in no time’, but that wasn’t the case.
“I probably took the first one for granted because it came so early in my career, I don’t think I cherished the moment as much as I should have. I will definitely savour every moment if we can win it again.”
It is not like they haven’t been close. Hibs are no strangers to Hampden in recent years, but the final hurdle has simply proved insurmountable. They reached consecutive Scottish Cup finals in 2012 and 2013, but were decimated 5-1 by Hearts before losing 3-0 against Celtic.
He continued: “We’ve come close in the past, had decent cup runs, but that means nothing until you actually get your hands on the trophy. It’s probably worse that we’ve been so close. It leaves a horrible taste in your mouth.
“You enjoy a cup run when you are on it, but if you lose in the final it’s so painful that you almost feel like you would have been better going out in the first round. I don’t want that feeling again after the Ross County match.”
Hibs come into this final following a warm-weather training camp in the Costa del Sol and spent last night at the plush Mar Hall Hotel, which is often utilised by the Scotland national team.
The sunshine work-out mirrors their preparations for the 2007 final, when John Collins took a split group to the south of Spain and, as former Hibee Michael Stewart revealed in a newspaper column during the week, there was plenty of bad blood between the manager and senior players.
Stevenson, the only remaining member of the match-day squad nine years ago, recalls how, as a fresh-faced teenager, he quietly “kept his head down” during the training camp.
He remains a softly-spoken character but, after more than 300 appearances for the club, is now a rock in the dressing room. And he is adamant the camaraderie at Hibs has never been better – and could be the key to victory today.
He said: “It’s difficult to remember too much about that camp in 2007. There was still a little bit of hostility towards the manager [Collins]. Not from me, but from a few of the senior players.
“It wasn’t a bad atmosphere, as such, but people were more in their separate groups. I just kept my head down, trained and was back in my room – it was Spain, but I could have been anywhere!
“But this squad gets on better than any one I have ever experienced. Anyone will sit with anyone at dinner, there are no cliques.
That is vital because I’m sure there will be moments against County when we are up against it, and that camaraderie and bond we have as a team could prove to be the biggest difference in getting the result.”