Grief-stricken Kevin Nisbet has vowed to dedicate the rest of his career to his ‘hero’ dad after revealing the personal tragedy that hung over him in Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Hearts.
Nisbet’s dedicated father, Thomas, lost his battle with terminal liver cancer on Wednesday, leaving the 23-year-old heartbroken in the build-up to probably his biggest ever match.
The summer signing from Dunfermline fulfilled the wish of his dying dad to play at Hampden, ignoring suggestions from manager Jack Ross that he could sit out the match as he continues to come to terms with losing his ‘driving force’.
And only now has the former Raith Rovers and Partick Thistle striker made his devastating news public, to thank those who have supported him through six months of hell off the pitch as he has tried to keep smiling on it.
He explained: “We’d known about Dad’s condition for, maybe, the last three months, before I signed for Hibs.
“Terminal liver cancer. The words hit you. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated in the last week. It all happened very quickly. We hoped we’d have had another couple of weeks with him, but it wasn’t to be.
“I had to leave training quickly on Tuesday to be at his side. There are all the obvious precautions for everyone just now and, like a lot people, I’ve had to say goodbye to a loved one in difficult circumstances. It’s been a tough time for so many people.
“I’d been visiting him in the garden for the last wee while, at his insistence. More than anyone he was making sure I was following all the proper protocols.
“I’m grateful for that time we had but it has been hard.
“Dad’s been the driving force behind how I’ve been playing in the last few months. Not just because he’s my hero and I wanted to do it for him, but because he’s always believed in me. Ever since I first kicked a ball.
“Dad was one of those ‘football dads’, in terms of giving up his time to drive me about from an early age.
“When I had a couple of setbacks earlier in my career and things weren’t going to plan, he never lost faith in me. He never stopped encouraging me.
“He wasn’t one of those pushy types trying to live their dreams through their kid. He just wanted me to be happy and make the most of myself.
“In the last few months it hasn’t been easy in terms of worrying about him and juggling that with football, but he was adamant that I – as best as I could – stayed single-minded when I was at training and playing games.
“Anything I do now will be for him.”
Nisbet has hailed the support he has received from his friends and colleagues at Hibs, admitting he initially kept his dad’s condition secret from all but Ross and assistant-manager John Potter on his arrival in the summer.
He said: “At the start, I didn’t tell anyone. I wanted to come to Hibs and be myself, at least initially.
“I let the gaffer and Potts know. They’ve been so good with me. Beyond that, with so few people knowing, I had the breathing space to come in, work hard and escape from all of it for a few hours every day.
“The gaffer and Potts were always saying that I could take time off, but I’ve not missed a session or a game. This was somewhere I could come in and feel comfortable.
“Again, the gaffer said I didn’t have to play on Saturday, but it was something I’d actually discussed with Dad before he passed away.
“He told me that he wanted me to play and that he thought I should play, whatever happened. I would probably have done the same, but it made it a lot easier hearing him say that.”
He added: “It’s hard to lose my dad at such a young age but these things happen. I’m no different to anyone else.
“Darren McGregor has been there for me. He lost his own dad at a young age and knows exactly how I feel and how to juggle that with football. I have to thank Darren and the rest of the lads because they’ve all been great with me. The same for the gaffer and Potts.
“My dad meant the world to me. It gives me comfort knowing he was watching the games every week in hospital and that it put a smile on his face.
“I’m sure he must have been kicking every ball from the bed and the nurses must have been sick of him.
“But that’s who he was. Someone who always wanted the best for me and who was always there when I needed him.
“Anything I do from here on in will be for him.”
Nisbet’s role in Saturday’s encounter with Hearts was crucial, with his first-half header bringing out a stunning save from Craig Gordon before he struck the bar with the extra-time penalty that could have won the game for Hibs and sent them into the Scottish Cup final.
It would have been a fitting tribute for Nisbet to pay to his late father, but the eight-goal marksman is adamant his personal sorrow was not to blame for the tiny error in judgement that denied him what could well have been a famous Edinburgh derby winner.
He commented: “I like to think I played my normal game. The penalty miss was a real disappointment, but my own situation had no bearing on that.
“Better players than me have missed penalties in the biggest games, and I could just as easily have hit the bar if I was playing without a care in the world.
“I wouldn’t stand for anyone trying to make any excuses for me.
“My reason for speaking out was to thank people who have offered their support, to me and my family in the last week.”