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COUNTDOWN TO THE BIG KICK-OFF Hampden Cup Final axe wrecked Hearts ace Calum's dream season
By Anthony Haggerty In Austria

CALUM ELLIOT had the whole of Scottish football bowing at his feet when he starred against Celtic at Tynecastle in January.

But five months later he was left feeling like a teenage dirtbag and forced to grow up overnight when he was dropped for the Scottish Cup Final against Gretna.

Elliot played in every tie running up to the big one and still finds it difficult to talk about his Hampden heartache. However, while he'll never understand the decision by Valdas Ivanauskas to axe him he respects his manager's right to do so.

The 19-year-old said: "It was great to win the Scottish Cup last season but I didn't really feel part of it. I didn't even get a medal.

"I only found out I wouldn't be playing on the day of the game and it was a big disappointment.

"I had family and friends at the game and they were all gutted for me.

"I started all the games leading up to the final and had a fantastic season but I knew it had to go down one day.

"The manager never told me why he left me out but I don't think he needs to explain. It's simple, he felt someone else could do a better job than me.

"I played in the Youth Cup Final a few days before and at the back of my mind I knew I probably would not make it to Hampden.

"Now I know what it feels like to miss a Scottish Cup Final I don't want it to happen again. It was a very painful experience.

"I want to improve my game to ensure I'm always involved in the big games from now on.

"I wasn't involved much towards the end of the season but I had to accept Valdas' decisions."

Elliot's life has been turned upside down since George Burley handed him his first start in an Edinburgh derby against Hibs last season.

Scotland honours at Under-19 and Under-21 levels have followed and Elliot insists the international scene helped him get over his Scottish Cup setback.

A goal for Scotland Under-21s in the 4-0 defeat of Iceland ranks as his proudest moment to date.

Elliot said: "George Burley gave me my first start for Hearts but it wasn't until Graham Rix came in that I got a proper run in the team.

"Valdas Ivanauskas has played me a few times too but playing for Scotland Under-21s has been the proudest moment of my career so far.

"Helping the Under-19s qualify for the European Championships was pretty special too. We managed that straight after the Cup Final and it was the perfect way for me to move on.

"Playing for Hearts is a dream come true and beating Hibs 4-0 at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final was amazing.

"There was lot of hype going into that game so to win so convincingly was fantastic.

"People recognise me a lot more now but I still have the same friends and I still live with my mum and dad - although I am moving out to my own place in November.

"I know I have a different life from most people my age and I realise how lucky I am and know I must stay focused on football.

"I never take football for granted because I know how quickly things can change. You can be as high as a kite and the next moment you're down again.

"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind and use it as a source of inspiration.

"The Scottish Cup Final was not a wake-up call for me but it was something that had to be done.

"I had to accept that and cheer the boys on to winning the trophy."

Despite his heartache last May Elliot still believes his immediate future will best be served at Tynecastle and he has already signed a five-year deal with the Jambos.

The youngster now hopes to play more than a bit-part when Hearts take centre stage on the greatest club platform of all - the Champions League.

He said: "Every boy dreams of playing in the Champions League and I'm no different.

"It's an exciting prospect and I'll do everything I can to make sure I'm involved.

"Going to Real Madrid or Barcelona would be great but I would take anyone as long as we make the group stages.

"Everyone dreams of playing in front of big crowds every week. You can't ask for any more than that.

"I want to play my part between now and the end of this season.

"Some players my age have been unfortunate with injury and that can be an eye-opener as well.

"Football can change in an instant so it's vital you take your chances when they come along.

"I want to build on what I did last year and get a lot of playing time and develop as a player.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity the managers have given me but it was always just a matter of getting a chance because I know I can play.

"Now I know I have to do better."

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