To get their shot at that, though, they first have to wart rival Hibs. It is something the Gorgie club have managed every time they have faced their foes at Hampden, most recently in the 2020 Scottish Cup semi-final, and they have momentum after overturning a Hibs opener in last weekend’s league match at Tynecastle to run out comfortable 3 -1 win
Even if they were to then fall at the final hurdle against either Celtic or Rangers, getting there would still reap rewards. Not that Hearts are capping their ambition.
Beyond the usual capital bragging rights, victory over Hibs would guarantee them a shot at the Europa League group stages, well-versed on the safety net the Conference League provides teams entering the qualifiers at that point.
The £3m-plus they should earn would help cushion the blow of missing out on domestic silverware and help them finance subsequent attempts.
“Ourselves, Aberdeen, Hibs, Dundee United and a number of other teams are always looking for that opportunity to get into the group stages, because it allows you to reinvest and hopefully gives you a chance to do it again and again and again.
“I suppose it’s similar to Rangers and Celtic, and the teams down south who make Europe. They can start to pull away from everyone else. So, if we can get there it would be a big step.”
There is real currency in winning the most prestigious cup in the country, though. That comes with kudos and admission to a very elite group.
“It would be great for everyone at the club, to be honest with you,” admitted Neilson, who was part of the club’s 2006-cup winning side that enjoyed a dominant derby triumph in the semi-final. “There’s not been many teams at this club who have won a trophy.
“There’s been a number who have qualified for Europe and a lot of teams have finished third and fourth in the league. But very few have won a cup. So, that’s the objective, to try to bring a cup back here.
“But, look, we’re still a long, long way away. We’ve won three games and we’ve still got another two to go – so we’re only 60 per cent done.”
Last weekend Hibs were on the front foot in the opening 25 minutes but Hearts came back at them. Much now remains on who can handle the psychological burdens from that match.
While Hibs have struggled to sell their full allocation, around 16,000 will lend their backing. Hearts contingent will be 21,500, creating a bombastic derby atmosphere and Neilson knows what that will feel like, having experienced it in 2006.
“When you turn up at Hampden and you’re a mile away and there’s already fans starting to ram the streets, you realize the importance of it.
“I think the most important thing that I keep saying to the players is that it’s a derby. You need to win it first and foremost. The second part is that it is a semi-final which is a chance to get to a final.
“What comes from that, whether it be European football or group stages, doesn’t really matter.”
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