HEARTS defender Michael Smith has joked that he lost count when Craig Gordon was recounting past glories and tallying up his heaving medal collection.
And the Northern Ireland internationalist adamant Gordon’s big-game experience, particularly during a silverware-laden period at Celtic, will be pivotal as the Jambos approach their Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian.
Smith has lavished praise on the veteran goalkeeper, who – to spare Smith dusting off his calculator – can boast 13 major honours from a storied career.
Gordon is also the only member of Hearts’ playing squad to have lifted the trophy, having been between the sticks when they defeated Gretna in 2006.
“He hasn’t specifically spoken about that feeling in 2006 – but he was telling the boys a few weeks ago about how many trophies he’s won,” laughed Smith. “I haven’t got enough fingers and toes for that!
“But Craig has got the experience of doing it over and again, and that’ll help us massively.”
However, it is not simply pedigree Gordon brings to the table.
Smith has acclaimed the 37-year-old as the best goalkeeper he has ever played in front of, a declaration which places him ahead of Rangers ace Jon McLaughlin and Burnley stopper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
“You should go watch him in training,” smiled Smith. “Keepers with great experience always control the game well, with plenty of talking and good leadership.
“You always feel more comfortable with someone like that behind you and it gives the rest of the team confidence.
“Every day when we play five-a-sides, his team always wins!
“And some of the saves he makes in training are frightening, I don’t know how he does it.
“For me personally, I think he’s the best keeper I’ve worked with. He’s massive for us, has had a great career and loves it here. He wants to be here and he’s the type of player we want.
“Hopefully with him behind us, it gives us a strong base to build from.”
While an abacus is required to keep track of Gordon’s glories, Smith would take on major honour.
He still recalls the sharp pain of narrowly losing 2-1 against Celtic in the 2019 Scottish Cup final, having taken the lead after 66 minutes and, for a tantalising moment, looked destined to derail the Hoops juggernaut.
It was not to be, as Neil Lennon’s men roared back to claim their third successive Treble. Ironically, Gordon was on the books of the champions, albeit was not in the match-day squad.
“I always have a think about it, what it would have been like to win it,” rued Smith. “For me, it definitely adds a little extra spice to it. I want to go out there and taste that success.
“It wasn’t nice to watch Celtic lift the trophy and it would’ve been nice to lift it myself, but it happened – and going through things like that makes you a stronger person; a stronger character. Hopefully, I can take it into this weekend.”
If defeating city rivals Hibs and lifting the Scottish Cup in December would represent catharsis for Smith, the same can be said for the Hearts fanbase.
In the last 12 months, they have seen the Jambos plummet towards mediocrity during the reigns of Craig Levein and Daniel Stendel before being relegated via an SPFL vote when the Premiership was curtailed with them bottom of the league in March.
That fight went to the Court of Session before being subject to Scottish FA arbitration and, having ultimately endured defeat in their bid to avoid the drop, Smith hopes to provide weary punters with some solace on the grass.
“It would give them something to shout about,” added Smith. “Beating your city rivals to get to the final would be great for them.
“The fact that the fans won’t be there to see it will be strange. But at the end of the day, it’s an Edinburgh derby and it’s huge for both clubs. I don’t see it being any less ferocious.”