BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
James Keatings insists Hibs are ready to use their League Cup final “heartache” to propel themselves back to Hampden following training ground talks this week.
Head coach Alan Stubbs called a meeting at the club’s East Lothian base on Monday morning, with players and staff alike urged to get any feelings off their chests following a devastating 2-1 defeat against Ross County.
Stubbs noted after gathering that there is no time “to feel sorry for ourselves” with Hibs still in the Scottish Cup and promotion hunt during a congested finale to the campaign.
However, the overriding message from the summit was that the capital club must channel their disappointment into ensuring a return to the national stadium for the Scottish Cup semi-final.
To do that they will need to see off Inverness in tonight’s quarter-final replay in the Highlands.
The 24-year-old said: “Sitting down as a group and having everyone talk about it has been a positive thing and we know that moving on as a group is the most important thing.
“There is a lot to look forward to in the season ahead. We can’t affect the past now, that is done and dusted. The disappointment will always be there but it is about using that disappointment to make sure we never experience it again.
“It [the meeting] wasn’t about what we did wrong. I was sitting watching the game and I felt we were the better team – but that doesn’t help in a cup final. I’d rather we were terrible and won the cup. The main thing is always to win the cup.
“At the end of the day you want to be lifting that cup and celebrating with your teammates and having a great day. It was a heartache, but we need to get that out of our system and show a determination to never feel that way again.
“That’s the great thing about football. You always have an opportunity very quickly to make things right and lift everyone – and that will drive us on against Inverness.”
Keatings, who revealed he has only glanced at his runners-up medal once since Sunday, entered the fray against the Highlanders as a second-half substitute at Hampden, replacing Kevin Thomson as the Hibees attempted to turn their territorial pressure into victory.
He admits he was gutted not to make Stubbs’ starting eleven, especially given his stand-out display – and fine goal – against Inverness seven days earlier, which saw him end a 16-match goal drought.
Nevertheless, Keatings is determined to play a key role in the rematch against John Hughes’ men as the sides do battle for a place in the last four.
The former Hearts and Hamilton striker said: “I was majorly disappointed not to start, particularly after my performance the week before. I thought I had a real chance of starting.
“I respect the decision of the team the gaffer picked. I fully believed the team he picked would go on to win the game. Every individual wants to start a cup final; everyone on that bench would have had that same disappointment as me.
“But now it’s about looking forward. Inverness are a top side, as they have shown, but it is up to us to show the character we have in that dressing room and put a performance in.
“We want to get back to Hampden, change things around, and come out with a win.
“Scoring last week was massive for me after a disappointing run of games. Getting that goal did lift a weight off my shoulder after putting pressure on myself to get a goal. I got that and hopefully I can kick on.”
And Keatings is acutely aware that lifting the Scottish Cup with Hibs and, in doing so, ending a hoodoo stretching back to 1902 would mean more than a League Cup triumph ever could have for the club and supporters.
He added: “Every fan wants to see their side lift cups, but that one in particular is what the fans talk about.”