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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Anthony Haggerty auth-> Dietmar Drabek
[M Muhlbauer 62]
11 of 019 Mirsad Beslija 83 F A

By Anthony Haggerty

NEIL McCANN is convinced he can only mend his Scottish Cup Final heartache by helping Hearts capture the SPL crown.

McCann was sidelined from last May's Hampden victory over Gretna because of knee ligament damage.

The winger was crocked in a game against Kilmarnock 1 in January and the injury was so serious it wrecked the rest of his season.

He was forced to watch from the stands as the Tynecastle club lifted the Cup and clinched second place in the league ahead of Rangers to qualify for the Champions League.

Now McCann is on his way back to fitness and is convinced Hearts deserve to be rated serious contenders to stun the Old Firm and be crowned Scottish champions.

He believes the winning mentality his side garnered from last season's hugely successful campaign will stand them in good stead on the domestic and European fronts.

Former Dundee and Rangers star McCann said: "Hearts showed they can compete with the Old Firm by winning the Cup and securing a Champions League qualification place by finishing second in the league.

"They showed a lot of mettle to do that and it was such a massive achievement.

"There was a lot going on behind the scenes at the club and that cannot be underestimated so our success underlined the mental strength of the team.

"We maybe did not play silky football towards the end of the season but we ground it out and clinched the Champions League place and that was so important. During my time at Rangers, mental strength was such a huge factor as it is for both members of the Old Firm.

"They play with a belief and confidence that they can always get something and that is what keeps driving them on.

"Hopefully we can take inspiration from the belief that drove us on when things became a bit shaky for us last season.

"I would like to think that attitude has got into the boys' heads and that we've proved we can be successful.

"Great things are expected of Hearts now and the boys are definitely feeling confident - but we need to work even harder this year.

"People now realise we will be a serious threat to the Old Firm in the battle for the championship."

McCann has pencilled in a possible return on July 19 against Spanish side Osasuna at Murrayfield as the Jambos prepare for their first Champions League tie the following week.

But he admits he will be happy only when he can join the rest of his team-mates for just one training session. Former Scotland winger McCann is keeping himself ticking over here in Hearts' training camp in Windischgarsten in Austria and will soon step up his fitness routine for a comeback.

He said: "When I got the injury I had a gut feeling it was worse than what I was being told. Nobody likes surgery and it is best avoided but I did need it.

"I also had treatment for my hamstring during the 10 weeks I was out. I felt really good and there was talk that I could even make the Cup Final.

"Then in a training session just before the semi-final against Hibs, I cut the ball back and it went again. It was a massive blow and I had to face reality and get an operation done.

"My fitness is really coming on. I will do some work on crossing and putting in block tackles.

"I would love to be fully fit for the Champions League tie but I cannot afford to take any risks and cause myself any harm.

"I want to make sure I do things right and I certainly won't be rushing back. That is why I have been advised to take an extra two or three weeks because of the time I have been out.

"The silver lining for me is just to get back to first-team training with the guys. If I can make the Champions League game I will be over the moon. I am on course for that."

McCann will never forget how the injury destroyed his dream of another Cup medal with Hearts after being part of Jim Jefferies' team that stunned Rangers to grab the trophy at Parkhead in 1998.

He admitted he felt like an outsider looking in on the Jambos' Cup celebrations.

McCann said: "I had been so desperate to be part of it all, having won it with Hearts in 1998 and lifted it five times in all in my career.

"I sat at the front of the stand right beside the Cup. It was a strange feeling a bitter-sweet experience.

"But it was nice to see the boys winning. As I stood on the pitch at the end, Steven Pressley motioned to me to come on to the podium and join in but I didn't really want to.

"To a certain extent I felt like I was on the outside looking in because I had not been playing.

"I would love to go out there and lift the Scottish Cup in a Hearts strip again this season."

But for McCann and Hearts the SPL title would be even better.

Taken from the Daily Record

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