Locke looks for happy cup memories
Gary Locke would be delighted to lead Hearts out for a cup final on his own merit after doing so in bitter-sweet circumstances last year.
The manager was a member of the coaching staff which helped the club defeat Inverness in the League Cup semi-final last year at Easter Road.
But he then found himself in the hotseat after John McGlynn was sacked by the club, with the 3-2 Hampden defeat to St Mirren being his first match in charge following his permanent appointment.
Caley Thistle are Hearts' opponents at the same stage of the competition 12 months later, again in Leith, and Locke hopes to guide the club through to another final to make up for the disappointment of last year.
"It was pretty difficult," said Locke.
"John McGlynn was the manager who had done a great job in getting us into the final. I felt he should have been the man leading us out. Unfortunately, he lost his job a couple of weeks before it.
"I actually found it a little embarrassing because I shouldn't have been the man leading Hearts out that day.
"This time, to get to where we've gotten with such a young team is a terrific achievement. The possibility of lifting a trophy is now a reality for us."
If Hearts are to make it to successive League Cup finals then they will have to break the recent trend in matches against Sunday's opponents.
Inverness have won both games this season and are undefeated against Hearts in their last seven meetings, other than that penalty shoot-out loss.
"It's going to be difficult," Locke said.
"Inverness have beaten us twice this season and they're a good team.
"There's no doubt they are the favourites, but we've got one or two players who could cause them problems. If we play like we have in the last month then we will give ourselves a chance."
Hearts new signing Paul McCallum is in contention for an immediate start on Sunday.
The young striker signed on loan from West Ham on Thursday and joins a returning Ryan Stevenson, following a two-game suspension, to give manager Locke some extra options in attack.
The only fresh injury concern is a knock to third-string goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, while Jason Holt and Jamie Walker remain long-term casualties.
Inverness skipper Richie Foran could return having not played since December 21 after injuring a shoulder in the 4-3 home defeat to Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership.
Boss John Hughes also expects to have Josh Meekings available after the defender was forced off in last week's 2-0 defeat by Kilmarnock following a clash of heads with Robbie Muirhead.
Hughes will encourage his Inverness players to use any motivational tools they want to get past Hearts - including revenge.
But Hughes will insist on cool heads at Easter Road.
The Highland club were prevented from reaching their first major final by the Jambos at the same stage of the competition last season when they were beaten 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.
Asked if revenge could be a factor in the way the players approach this rematch, the Inverness boss said: "It could be, if it is that you are using as a tool then use it.
"It is important that you have the fire in the belly and you just have to turn the flame up and be ready to go.
"If you are playing for your family, your wife, your girlfriend, for a lost one - go and use it if that inspires you.
"But I have told the players that it is not about who wants it most on the day.
"It is about controlling your emotions, being cool, calm and collected, getting on the ball, passing it, working hard, being astute tactically and aware.
"And if we could do that then we will win the game. If not, then there will be a game on."
Administration-hit Hearts are bottom of the table but Hughes pointed to their wins over Ross County and St Mirren this week as evidence of the Gorgie side's threat.
The former Hibernian and Falkirk boss said: "Don't be fooled with Hearts and the position they are in in the league, the turmoil at Tynecastle and the young kids and all that.
"They beat a good Ross County side, who were unbeaten in three, last week and they beat a good St Mirren side on Wednesday night.
"They are a big, physical side. They have good experience in their team, they have good legs in their team and they have that youthful exuberance.
"They will be up for it on Sunday so we have to make sure that we match that."