PAUL HARTLEY insists he knew Hearts were destined to humiliate Hibernian the moment he saw the sea of maroon at Hampden.
April 2 marks exactly 14 years since the Jambos juggernaut flattened the hapless Hibees 4-0 in the Scottish Cup semi-final, with Hartley writing his name in Jambos folklore with a scintillating hat-trick.
Champions League winner Edgaras Jankauskas – whose class shone through in patches during his time in Gorgie – was irrepressible in attack and grabbed the other goal in the rout.
The victory may have been usurped in 2012 when Hearts battered Hibs 5-1 in the final of the same competition but it remains one of their greatest ever derby days.
And Hartley has revealed that the outcome was never in doubt.
He recalled: “I really felt like we were going to get a big result. I can remember leaving the hotel and the bus was silent because we were so focused.
“Then we turned the corner towards Hampden and we saw 20,000 Hearts fans there already.
“You drive down a wee tunnel into the stadium and we were all saying ‘there’s no way we’re losing today’.
“It was one of the biggest Hearts games for 50 years and we turned up, puffed out our chests and felt really good about ourselves.
“We all knew that the losers would be reminded of it for a very long time – and that wasn’t going to be us.”
That unshakable confidence was only bolstered when Hartley looked around the dressing room.
A lavishly assembled Hearts side read: Gordon, Neilson, Pressley, Webster, Goncalves, Cesnauskis, Aguiar, Hartley, Skacel, Elliot, Pospisil. They could afford to leave Euro 2004 winner Takis Fyssas on the bench.
Hibs, who saw goalkeeper Zibi Malkowski endure a shocking afternoon while Gary Smith and Ivan Sproule were sent off, simply could not compete. And Hartley knew it.
He continued: We had the type of characters with tough mentalities who lapped up days like that as well.
“Right down the spine of the team, guys like Craig Gordon, Elvis [Steven Pressley], Robbie Neilson, Takis [Fyssas], [Edgaras] Jankauskas. What a side it was. You’re looking around thinking ‘aye, I can trust him’.
“Whereas, Hibs were understrength, had a few players missing, and we thought we could get one over on them.
“We started well and I’ll always remember the first goal. [Rudi] Skacel finds me in space, I drive forward and ping it wide to big Jankauskas – he was a terrific player, by the way. Janny lays it on a plate for me.
“Sometimes you just have a feeling about yourself and think ‘I’m going to play well today’. That was definitely one of those days and I went on to get another couple.”
He added: “There are certain days that, when you finally retire, you look back and say ‘that was a special day’. That day against Hibs was definitely one of those; one of the best I had as a player.”
Hearts went on to defeat Gretna on penalties to win the trophy for the second time in eight years.
It capped a roller-coaster 2005/06 campaign for the club, with George Burley initially turning the Jambos into credible title challengers before the brief rein of Graham Rix and, finally, Valdas Ivanuaskas leading the club to Scottish Cup glory.
However, Hartley acknowledges a sense of what might have been if Burley had kept his job.
Hartley continued: “I’ll always look back on that first four months of the season – we were free-flowing, played with pace and George Burley was brilliant with us. The momentum we had was unbelievable. When we played at Tynecastle, I thought ‘we’re beating anybody – bring it on’.
“Should we have won the league? We had a chance. Celtic were strong but I felt that if we had kept things together and George [Burley] had been there the whole season, we would have had a right good chance to compete with Celtic.”
If not for the coronavirus, we would be just nine days away from the first Scottish Cup semi-final clash between Hearts and Hibs since Sir Paul Hartley Day – as it has been dubbed by Jambos – but there is now uncertainty regarding whether it will ever be played.
Hartley added: “It would have been a really interesting one, too. Hibs have got a solid team and Jack [Ross] has steadied the ship, whereas Hearts have some really talented players who seem to raise their game for the big occasions. They had Hibs’ number last time out.
“It would have been a right tough one to call and I was looking forward to it.”