Hibs legend Jackie McNamara senior insists the Scottish Cup will be the priority for the Leith club in Sunday’s tie against fierce rivals Hearts, not the Championship.
Head coach Neil Lennon, whose side are six points clear at the league summit, and the Easter Road board have made it clear that earning promotion back to the top-flight is their prime concern following a three-season absence.
Lennon conceded earlier this week that ‘he could have done without’ the Tynecastle tussle as the Edinburgh foes get set to renew their rivalry for the first time since Hibs knocked their Gorgie counterparts out of the competition a year ago on their way to lifting the trophy.
He said: “If you’re a Hibs supporter you want to beat Hearts, that’s the way it is.
“The monkey is off the back with the cup win but I want to see them win on Sunday, don’t get me wrong. You want to win every game, even if it’s a friendly.
“I’m sure the most important thing in everyones’ minds is the league but I don’t even think they’ll think about that on Sunday.
“The atmosphere will get to them as well. As long as they play the game and not the occasion I would be quite confident.
“It’s a great prospect and I can understand where Neil is coming from because it is a distraction from the league.
“The most important thing is getting back into the top league.
“It’s just a marvellous occasion and it will be a great atmosphere at Tynecastle.
“Will there be tears shed if they go out? The bigger picture is getting back into the top league because they’re losing money.
“We got to two cup finals last year and we’ve got a great squad of players, a lot of good professionals there.”
A demanding run of games last season took its toll on the squad as they ran out of steam in a promotion play-off defeat to Falkirk before beating Rangers at Hampden to end 114-years of Scottish Cup agony.
But McNamara expects the players to be able to handle the exertions of fighting on two fronts.
He added: “It’s not as if they’re playing four games in 15 days or whatever. Even then, I preferred to play three games a week because you were not training as much.
“You weren’t going up and down Arthur’s Seat and I’m sure most players would rather play games.”
Hearts have hit form at the right time following impressive victories over Rangers and Motherwell, while Hibs dropped two points in a frustrating draw at home to Ayr United at the weekend.
The hosts will go into the match as favourites but McNamara insists Hibs should not be written off.
He added: “Before the recent wins against Rangers and Motherwell, Hearts didn’t look too clever. They needed two games and extra time to see off Raith Rovers.
“I was at Easter Road on Saturday, the first goal in any game is important and Ayr were there for a point
“I don’t think the tempo was high enough but the players worked hard and got the point, because Ayr parked the bus as they say.
“It was a wee blip on Saturday but we’re still six in front and I would call it seven with goal difference.
“I think we’re better than Dundee United and we proved that a couple of weeks ago.”