The 2016 Scottish Cup Final represents for both Rangers and Hibernian the opportunity to return to the European arena following – for both clubs – a prolonged absence for one reason or another.
For Rangers, the securing of the national trophy for a 34th occasion would mark the end of the Journey through the darkest days in the club’s history whilst for Hibernian there is the opportunity to become club legends by becoming the first Leith side since 1902 to win the Scottish Cup.
An achievement that many Hibs fans would regard as more than ample consolation for their failure to secure promotion from the Championship for a second consecutive season.
The five previous meetings between the two clubs have yielded no fewer than 23 goals with three wins for Rangers, two for Hibernian suggesting that goals will certainly not be in short supply at Hampden.
It remains to be seen who will be more affected by the vastly different experiences over the past three weeks – whilst Rangers have been idle their opponents have been involved in four draining play-off fixtures against Raith Rovers and Falkirk that ultimately ended in disappointment.
Ibrox captain Lee Wallace was relaxed about the Light Blues’ preparations.
“It’s been a different challenge of course. We’ve all been aware of the three-week gap but the Manager put together a very good programme.
“It gave us the opportunity to rest for a few days then had a great test down the road at Tottenham. That was a great experience – and then we’ve had a normal working week preparing for the final.
“I’m an ever-present this season which is rare for myself. I’ve not managed to do that on any previous occasion during my career. We’re fully focused, fully committed. We’re fine mentally.
In terms of team selection Mark Warburton does not have his troubles to seek with Dominic Ball suspended, Harry Forrester injured and both Michael O’Halloran and Billy King ineligible. Martyn Waghorn is now fully fit however and will certainly play from the start as indeed could Dean Shiels in the middle of the park.
The Northern Ireland Internationalist is out of contract come the summer – and there can surely be no better stage for him to prove himself worthy of a new deal at Ibrox.
For the Rangers Captain the dream is of becoming the first Light Blue skipper to lift the Scottish Cup since David Weir in 2009.
“It would be a dream come true. There’s not many of us in our dressing-room who have experienced a Scottish Cup Final. We were expected to win the Challenge Cup and we delivered that. We were expected to deliver the Championship and we did that in style by a number of points. I’m not sure if we were expected to win the Scottish Cup but it would be a dream to end the season by lifting the Scottish Cup.
“It would be nice and it would be fitting. It would make what has been a ‘good’ season a ‘great’ season. Our fans - who have probably suffered the most over the last few years – deserve this most of all.”
The Ibrox men’s opponents of course are no strangers to Wallace or his men - Hibernian have presented a serious and formidable challenge over the past two seasons.
“In a football sense Hibs are just another opponent but we’re aware of everything that’s at stake. First and foremost, we are aware of their threat based on the games we have played, and equally, we know what we need to do to win the game.
“We expect to face a team hungry to rectify the fact they missed out on promotion to the top flight. They’ll be hurting - and we know that will be their motivation, as will certain elements of their history. We are aware of their issues and what they have got in terms of this game, but we know that if we prepare well and deliver our normal level of performance, then we should be fine.
“We just need to focus on what we do though and never deviate from the mentality and mind-set we have had since Day One. We go into this game fully confident.
“The games we have played against each other will have been great for the neutral, and it’s certainly become one of the more attractive games in Scottish football. It’s disappointing it’s been happening in the Championship as every top game should be in the top division but they have been good games. We won three, they won two, and we feel in the two we lost we were still the dominant side, and we realise at the same time how and why we lost goals, and these are things we looked at in the days after the games in our analysis.
“That’s been and gone though - and it’s just all about tomorrow.”
It should be a great game and a memorable Cup Final with the Light Blue legions travelling to Hampden in anticipation of a party.