STEVEN MacLEAN will never forget the build-up to his first Scottish Cup final, largely because it consisted of wondering when Rangers skipper Barry Ferguson was going to return from his five-day bender.
MacLean, 36, was a fresh-faced teenager in 2003 when he was named on the bench for Rangers’ Hampden showpiece against Dundee, taking advantage of a slight injury to Peter Lovenkrands to get the nod from Alex McLeish.
It was the reward for a week of hard graft intended to impress McLeish. However, that was not the case for the majority of the club’s senior players, who were still celebrating the Gers’ title win from the previous Sunday.
The Glasgow giants demolished Dunfermline 6-1 to pip Celtic on the final day of the SPL season, sparking celebrations that only ended when their wives and McLeish assembled to drag them out of the pub.
Even in a delicate state, Rangers still had enough to win 1-0 courtesy of a Lorenzo Amoruso header; a maiden medal for MacLean.
“I was on the bench for the last day of that season when we beat Dunfermline and Celtic beat Kilmarnock,” recalled the Hearts striker. “We had to match their result so we won the league on Sunday and we all went out that night.
“I made sure I was in the next day because, as a young lad, I was trying to do all I could to get in the cup final squad the following weekend. Whereas, I don’t think half of the players turned up until the THURSDAY – Barry Ferguson and all those guys.
“They had to get dragged out of the pub by their wives and the manager. They turned up on the Thursday and Friday and we literally did nothing. Just boxes. The manager didn’t want them training because he didn’t want any of them getting hurt.
“We basically did nothing all week. I trained with whoever was left to try to get into the squad. In the end, Peter Lovenkrands was struggling and he pulled out and I got myself onto the bench. It was a good experience. You don’t get the bus parade with Rangers but it was a good night out after it.”
Should Hearts lift the Scottish Cup this afternoon, he fully intends to give Fergie a run for his money.
He laughed: “I have said to the wife she won’t see me until we go on holiday on Wednesday. I’ll meet them at the airport!”
MacLean would go onto play an altogether more pivotal role in 2014’s final when he wrote his name into St Johnstone folklore, scoring the second goal as they defeated Dundee United 2-0 – the first piece of major silverware in the club’s history.
‘There was never a minute when I thought we weren’t going to win that Scottish Cup,” he continues.
“To do it with St Johnstone was wild and the celebrations would probably have lasted a week – but I had my coaching A-Licence to do. It was probably for the best! That was the highlight of my career to date.
“If Hearts win the Scottish Cup this will be my third winners’ medal and I won a playoff with Sheffield Wednesday. When you’ve experienced those celebrations it makes you hungry for more and I realise how lucky I am.”
That appreciation of his honours is only accentuated when MacLean considers the fact his manager, Craig Levein, is yet to win a piece of major silverware as a player or a manager.
It is a startling fact considering Levein was one of the most talented Scottish defenders of his generation – albeit his career was cruelly curtailed by injury – and has been sufficiently successful as a coach to be placed in charge of his country.
MacLean would love nothing more than to see Levein break that duck to end a campaign which has seen the 54-year-old receive his fair share of criticism from the Hearts fanbase.
“I spoke to him leading up to the League Cup semi-final and I never knew he hadn’t won anything until he said that,” recalled MacLean. “It would be extra special because he is the one who brought us all to this club, whether we are his signings or the young lads that he has helped develop as Director of Football.
“It would be nice for us to pay him back with a Scottish Cup win.
“When you’re walking off at Tynecastle and he’s getting a bit of stick it certainly hurts me. I haven’t spoken to the other lads about it specifically, but I am 100 per cent sure they will want to do it for the manager as well.”