BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
IAN CATHRO recalls being bombarded by half-hearted missiles and full-blooded expletives as he ran the gauntlet from the Newcastle team bus into the Stadium of Light – and the Hearts head coach insists he loved it.
The 30-year-old may be a managerial novice on derby-day, but he has experienced plenty of ferocious rivalries during his coaching career with Rio Ave, Valencia and Newcastle.
However, nothing quite compares to the bitter battle between the Magpies and Sunderland.
Cathro was assistant manager to Steve McClaren when the Toon visited their loathed Wearside neighbours in October 2015 and remembers the hostile welcome the coaching staff were given as the entered the ground.
Things would only get worse on the pitch as 10-men Newcastle wilted in the Stadium of Light cauldron and succumbed to a 3-0 defeat.
He said: “Newcastle versus Sunderland was a real derby – the walk from the bus to the stadium was a bit interesting. That was alive. But it’s great and everybody likes it.
“I think there were a few things nervously thrown at us [by Sunderland fans] – not aggressively, but just for show. A bit of that, and some chanting that wasn’t overly pleasant. It’s just all theatre.
“That was the first [Tyne-Wear derby] one I was part of, we lost 3-0 and Coloccini was sent of for something that wouldn’t have been a red today – a foul to give away a penalty.
“We were actually quite dominant in the game until that, but no-one remembers that fact. It’s all about the result.
“In Spain, when I was with Valencia, the match against Villarreal had a bit of history and edge to it. There was a point when Valencia had the opportunity to not score a goal to allow Villarreal to stay up – then they scored it anyway.
“That created some extra tension and there is a genuine thing going on there.”
And he expects a similarly powder-keg experience when his Jambos side host Hibs in the Scottish Cup – as Hearts eye the bragging rights in Edinburgh, as well as a place in the last eight.
He continued: “The fans will certainly not want to lose and that is where football is such a great game; a beautiful thing. It means so much to people, The following three or four days after these special fixtures, it’s like nothing else happens.
“I love that as much as I love football. It’s real, it matters, people care.
“There could be disastrous things happening in the political sphere – but people only talk about what happened in the game!”
Cathro’s two-year stint as assistant to Nuno Espirito Santo with Rio Ave was lacking in derby days, however he did experience the excitement, the pressure and, ultimately, the heartbreak of a Portuguese Cup final.
While defeating Hibs is the immediate priority, that is a feat he aspires to repeat with Hearts – albeit with a more favourable outcome than the 1-0 reverse against the mighty Benfica in 2014.
Cathro recalled: “We felt the build up through the week and there is always that extra little bit. With the Cup final that is partly because you are coming to the end of the season and you have nothing after it so you do that little bit more work.
“Maybe the details become even more important and everything gets magnified a little bit. In the cup final we were playing against a really strong opponent and we had a chance but we never got deep enough into the game against Benfica.
“They are experiences you look back upon but, ultimately we didn’t win.” And Cathro knows that winning is all that counts, especially this weekend.