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Glen Gary [G Skelton 93]
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Final can be great springboard


A Herculean performance from Jamie MacDonald on Saturday could help Queen of the South pull off one of the greatest Scottish Cup shocks in the competition's illustrious history. It may also finally end Hearts' search for a viable long-term successor to Craig Gordon.

MacDonald has been on loan at Queens since January 2007, opting for a regular diet of competitive action, albeit in the first division, instead of reserve team football and ladles of frustration at Tynecastle. The goalkeeper, a close friend of Gordon's, has become a key figure at Palmerston under first Ian McCall and now Gordon Chisholm, his performances propelling Queens into the Scottish Cup final and himself into Scotland Under-21 contention.

He will revert to being a Hearts player following the showdown with Rangers at Hampden on Saturday and will return to Tynecastle this time with genuine aspirations of becoming the club's first-choice goalkeeper.

Since Gordon's £9m move to Sunderland last August, Hearts have thrust Steve Banks, Eduardas Kurskis and Anthony Basso between the posts with mixed success.

Kurskis has left to go back to Lithuania after one howler too many, while Basso has similarly failed to convince. Banks, who could have been in opposition to MacDonald on Saturday had a proposed move to Rangers gone through in January, has proven to be a solid professional but, at 36, his playing future can be measured in months rather than years. MacDonald has one year left on his Hearts contract and hopes that he can finally seize his chance.

"I still have a year at Hearts, so I will be back there next year, so far as I know," he said. "But the last 18 months have been great for me. I've played something like 55 games for Queens now and have a fair bit of experience. It's a big difference playing in front of a crowd and playing maybe to avoid relegation or playing for a bonus every week. You have that bit of pressure you maybe don't get in a reserve game.

"It's been a great experience for me, and my game has come on a lot in the last 18 months. Hearts have a few keepers but hopefully next year I will get a chance.

"Getting to this final has put me in the spotlight a bit and hopefully Hearts will take note of that and I will do well in the final, then they might decide I deserve a chance next year. I will go back and see what happens in pre-season.

"I don't want to go back to Hearts and be third or fourth choice. I will be going back there hoping I at least have the chance to play."

It seems strange to question MacDonald's physique when he stands at six feet tall, but at a goalkeeper's convention the 22-year-old would be one of the little people. Criticism of his height irks MacDonald, who points towards the success enjoyed by Andy Goram, his childhood hero, despite being only 5ft 11in.

"Through the years at Hearts I've always had coaches saying I will find it hard because I'm not as big as I'd want to be," he said. "It's been good to prove people wrong here at Queens and to prove to myself that you don't need to be 6ft 4in and massively built to succeed.

I rely a lot on my speed and agility and it's all about playing to your strengths.

It's your ability and attitude rather than size that will take you a long way in the game. You cannot control your size. If you grow, you grow.

"Look at Andy Goram, he is the guy I base myself on. He had great speed, agility and reaction and some of the saves he pulled off were unbelievable and yet he wasn't a giant either. But he was one of the best goalkeepers Scotland ever had. When I was younger I was a Rangers fan and in the playground you would pretend to be someone: it was always Goram for me. He has been a good influence on my career, someone I wanted to be like."

MacDonald remains close friends with Gordon, the man he once understudied during his fledgling days as a Hearts player. Gordon was in goal when the Tynecastle side defeated Gretna to win the Scottish Cup two years ago and MacDonald is hoping for some last-minute words of advice from his friend.

"I've not spoken to Craig yet this week, but before the semi-final he phoned me," he said. "I'm sure I'll get a phone call the night before the final and probably get a few words of wisdom from him like last time. It's good to hear from a guy like Craig who has done it two years ago with Hearts.

He experienced first hand what it's like to play in a cup final and that means a lot."

Cup glory and the next step in a burgeoning career await.

Taken from the Herald

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