Conor Shaughnessy determined to make amends for Leeds United FA Cup nightmare by leading Hearts into Scottish Cup semi-final

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HEARTS defender Conor Shaughnessy has reflected on the darkest day in his short career to date as he seeks to exorcise the ghosts of Rodney Parade by reaching the Scottish Cup semi-final.

The 22-year-old lined up in the heart of defence for parent club Leeds United last season as the current Championship leaders suffered a chastening 2-1 FA Cup defeat against lowly Newport County, even scoring an own goal to inadvertently restore parity.

Little did Shaughnessy know that County would go onto establish themselves as giant-killers extraordinaire in the subsequent 12 months, dispatching Middlesbrough, Leicester and earning a replay against Tottenham in the same competition. ‘I don’t take that as any consolation,’ he adds with a rueful smile.

The ill-fated encounter last January was live on BBC television and, at the time, Shaughnessy wanted the pockmarked Rodney Parade turf to open up and swallow him whole. With the benefit of time, however, he appreciates the learning curve that galling afternoon provided.

“It was a big defeat for us, probably the worst defeat I’ve been involved in,” he recalled. “I scored an own goal in it, too . . . it was a good little finish.

“I wouldn’t say we underestimated Newport. I think we started the game well but maybe lacked a bit of quality. My own goal put us on the back foot and then we switched off for the second goal.

“It was tough at the time. I hadn’t played many games and it was a real learning curve for me but I feel like I am better off for having had that negative experience.

“Now that I’ve been through it, I know that you have to go into games like that preparing like it’s the biggest game you’ve ever played. You’re up against a team who are the underdogs, so they’re going to up their game.

“You’ve got to match that in your work rate and intensity and then hope the quality shows through in the end.”

While the gulf between Hearts and Partick Thistle is hardly comparable with the two divisions – and the immeasurable difference in stature – that separated Leeds and Newport County, Shaughnessy can appreciate the parallels ahead of his trip to Firhill.

There is no danger that the Ireland under-21 internationalist will underestimate the challenge of the Jags, currently rock-bottom of the Championship, in his bid to create some altogether more pleasant cup anecdotes.

Shaughnessy, No.35, fires into his own net

“I am looking to get positive memories from the Scottish Cup after what happened last year,” he smiled. “I’ve never reached the semi-final of a cup competition so that would be massive for me.

“Maybe Partick are not as far down as Newport were at the time but I think it would be viewed as an upset and we need to be on our guard against that.

“Everybody has to be at it. It’s the quarter-final of a cup so you have to go into it and give 100 percent. You cannot afford to look at where Partick are in their league as they are in the last-eight for a reason. We have to be professional.”

Shaughnessy is adamant booking a semi-final date at Hampden would be the perfect way to lift the gloom that descended as a result of Celtic’s dramatic 2-1 victory at Tynecastle last Wednesday, with the Jambos’ 10 men defeated by a galling 92nd-minute Odsonne Edouard strike.

Indeed, he has no doubt that a repeat of that performance would be enough to see off the Maryhill men.

“Wednesday night was tough to take but straight after the game, the manager said: ‘We’re in a quarter-final on Monday so let’s put things right’,” continued Shaughnessy.

“If we play that way every week, we’re going to win 90 per cent of our games. It’s about putting in a consistently top performance.

“Getting to a semi-final would be massive boost to everyone. We were down after losing the Celtic game in that manner. I think we had a chance of winning it with 11 men on the pitch because we were playing well. So it’s a massive game on Monday to lift the season again.”

 
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