HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon hailed the character of his players after they pulled themselves back from the abyss to reach their second successive Scottish Cup final with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Falkirk.
"To come from 3-0 behind in the semi-final of a cup is a tremendous achievement and it has got us to a final for a second year in a row which is fantastic for everybody, the supporters as well, because they have had some hard times here," said Fenlon. "I'm sure they have gone away in good form." Some did not go away in high spirits. Dozens, probably hundreds, who are still bearing the mental scars from that derby thrashing, made for the exit after the third goal.
"If I had a way I might have walked out myself at that stage," Fenlon said. "I can understand that, I don't have any problem with that at all.
The ones that stayed were fantastic, they backed us and carried us through like they have done in all the games in the cup this season." Hibs were staring at another Hampden humiliation to follow on from last year's 5-1 final defeat by Hearts when Falkirk went three ahead inside 30 minutes through goals from teenagers Craig Sibbald and Jay Fulton plus 21-year-old Blair Alston.
The afternoon almost got worse before it got better as Falkirk striker Lyle Taylor was clean through late in the first half only for Ben Williams to save.
Hibs then embarked on a stunning comeback, inspired by the direct running and pace of teenage winger Alex Harris, who pulled one back from long range in the 51st minute.
Hibs passed up numerous chances, including a Leigh Griffiths penalty, before the striker soon made amends and substitute Eoin Doyle sent the game into extra time.
With the game five minutes from penalties, Griffiths powered a 25-yard strike into the top corner to complete a remarkable turnaround.
Fenlon took his share of the blame for their abject first-half display. "We can't give ourselves that sort of a start in matches but the players, from half time onwards, were tremendous," said the Dubliner.
"Even when we missed the penalty and you think maybe it's not going to be our day, we showed real character to keep going. There is massive heart in there. They got a reaction out of themselves, as well as us." When asked what made the difference, Fenlon said: "I just thought we worked harder.
Putting Eoin up probably gave them a different problem — we didn't let them out as much and put a little bit of pressure on their back four. Plus young Danny (Handling) and Alex got wider and caused them problems. We got the first goal and got momentum." Despite the ultimate elation, Fenlon admitted the afternoon had been an ordeal. Hibs also had a strong penalty claim denied and a Griffiths goal contentiously disallowed for offside.
"It was an unbelievable game," he said. "I have never been through anything like that before and never want to again."