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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Alan Campbell

Hibs determined to climb back on pedestal against Rangers in final - Alan Campbell

TODAY'S Sky Sports Cup final at Tynecastle is a landmark occasion for the game in Scotland. Broadcast live by the sponsor, it is likely to attract a record television audience for a domestic match in this country.

Given the expected weather in Edinburgh, it's a bonus that the game will kick off at 12.30pm and be played entirely in daylight. Whether the temperature (and economic climate) affects the attendance remains to be seen, but hopefully there will be a crowd and atmosphere to do justice to the occasion.

Rangers, obviously, will start favourites against a Hibernian side which would have gone into the final in the bottom half of the table – seventh – had Motherwell held on to take three points against Partick Thistle on Friday night. Even sixth place is a far cry from the 2003-2019 glory years when they won three league titles, a record seven League Cups and eight Scottish Cups.

The last of these was in May, 2019, when Hibs beat Glasgow City 4-2 on penalties after extra time to lift the League Cup at the Excelsior Stadium. It was a seventh successive knock-out competition win for the Edinburgh side.

Hayley Lauder and Clare Shine won't like to be reminded that they failed to convert from the spot (although Shine went on to take her revenge when she scored the winner in City's 4-3 Scottish Cup final win over Hibs that November). The goalkeeper who saved both penalties, correctly diving to her right on both occasions, was Jenna Fife.

Today she will be in the Rangers squad, but perhaps not the starting eleven as New Zealand's Vic Esson has been preferred in big games so far this season. That alone illustrates Rangers' strength in depth advantage, with ACL victim Jane Ross the only player not available to Malky Thomson today.

Two other Rangers players – Colette Cavanagh and Chelsea Cornet – were in the Hibs side for that 2019 League Cup win, while a fourth, Kirsten Reilly, moved from Rangers to Crystal Palace this summer. In stark contrast, only two current Hibs players – central defenders Joelle Murray and Siobhan Hunter – were in that starting eleven against City.

The National: Joelle Murray and Dean GibsonJoelle Murray and Dean Gibson (Image: SWPL)

Now 36, Murray made her senior debut for the Edinburgh side when she was 17, but her allegiance goes back much further. Her father took her from the family's home in the Borders to watch the men's team at Easter Road from the age of five, and she joined the women's youth set-up seven years later.

Like Hunter and Ellis Notley, another long-time Hibs player who was on the bench in 2019, Murray has had to accept that the move to professional status of today's opponents and Celtic has changed the landscape. “It's a tough one, because for so long we were the pioneers along with Glasgow City within the women's game,” she confirmed.

“It's hard when you've worked so hard to develop players and be successful over the years to see teams with that financial clout come along and take that away from you, take you off your pedestal.”

Murray went on to point out that Hibs themselves have now brought their women's team in-house, heavily increasing investment on and off the pitch. They made a disastrous start to the season, losing 9-0 to Celtic in the opening league game, but visa issues affecting their overseas summer signings impacted on their early league fixtures.

They were impressive in last month's 2-1 semi-final win against a Glasgow City side which had home advantage. Shannon McGregor and Michaela McAlonie won the midfield battle, while potential key players today include Norwegian goalkeeper Benni Haaland and striker Krystyna Freda, who admits the visa issue and a training ground concussion prevented her from making the hoped-for early season impression.

The biggest dilemma for Rangers head coach Thomson is who to leave out. Despite making nine changes to the side which drew 0-0 with Celtic eight nights earlier, his almost new team beat bottom club Glasgow Women 10-0 last Sunday.

The one-sided nature of the game made it a straightforward return for captain Kathy Hill. She suffered a fracture and torn ligaments when her foot caught on a sub-standard surface in the second half of the 3-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros in August and missed the next 15 games.

A Scotland under-19 contemporary of Caroline Weir, the central defender is hoping to win her first-ever winners' medal at the age of 28. And having been a science teacher until she went full time in the summer, Hill also hopes her second stint at Rangers can lead to a senior Scotland call-up.

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