Hibs’ future in safe hands

Paul Grant
Paul Grant
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HIBS kid Paul Grant forked out £15 for a ticket to watch Pat Fenlon’s side clinch their place in the final of the Scottish Cup and then hitched a lift home on a supporters’ bus.

A week tomorrow the teenager won’t pay a penny for one of the best seats in Hampden and he’ll make the journey in style, on the team coach flanked by a police escort.

It’s a scenario the youngster from Gilmerton could never have imagined as he kicked off the season as fourth choice goalkeeper at Easter Road, well down the pecking order behind Graham Stack, Mark Brown and Calum Antell, his target being to simply play as many matches as possible for the club’s Under-19 side.

But the serious thigh injury suffered by Stack during the semi-final triumph over Aberdeen and the fact Antell was cup-tied, having spent the season on loan with Third Division East Stirling, has suddenly catapulted him into the biggest Edinburgh derby ever.

Grant will be on the bench, of course, as Brown takes the responsibility of shutting out Capital rivals Hearts, but it is an experience he’s determined to enjoy, well aware he and his team-mates will have their names written into Hibs folklore if only they can end that 110-year wait for the cup.

The former Liberton High School pupil said: “I’ve been a Hibs fan all my life and went through with a pal to watch the semi and obviously I was delighted the boys won.

“I honesty didn’t give the fact Stacky had come off injured a second thought. I believed that at most he’d be out for a couple of weeks, but be fine for the final. But then he had a scan and discovered he would be missing for ten to 12 weeks.

“I was gutted for him, but then I started to realise I might have a chance of being involved in the final myself.”

Stack’s injury saw Hibs enter the crucial five post-split matches still battling the threat of relegation, all thoughts of the cup having been put on hold until SPL survival was assured, with only the untried Grant as back-up to Brown.

A major concern, naturally, was what might happen should Brown pick up an injury, but, Grant revealed, the fact Fenlon immediately insisted he wouldn’t be seeking an experienced goalkeeper as an emergency signing gave his confidence a huge boost.

He said: “The manager hasn’t really spoken to me about it. It’s been more our goalkeeping coach Scott Thomson who has told me to relax and treat it for what it is, that if I get a chance I have to be ready to take it.

“But the fact the manager said he wouldn’t be looking for another goalkeeper shows he has faith in me to have me on the bench at such a crucial time.

“Stacky has been great with me. He has wished me luck and both him and Mark have helped me along. Calum has also been great to me. I suppose he knows it might have been him had he not gone out on loan at East Stirling to get some experience of first team football.”

Grant admitted the thought of possibly being a Scottish Cup winner at the age of 19 when so many players go through their entire career without getting close to a Hampden final was at times “a bit scary”, but he added: “I am confident in my own ability and if I get the chance I’m sure I can do well for the club.

“Goalkeeping is a specialist position and it can be difficult for a young goalie, but things have changed dramatically. I started the season as fourth choice, hoping to get games for the Under-19s and now I’m second choice.”

While most youngsters see themselves as free-scoring strikers or dazzling wingers, Grant revealed he has always enjoyed life between the sticks.

He joked: “I was probably too lazy to run about so I stuck myself in goals and it seems to have done the trick.

“I used to play up the park with my pals and one of them asked me to play for Leith Athletic for one game. They asked me back and then Hibs asked me to come along to training with the Under-14 side. I signed for the Under-15s and I’ve been playing ever since.”

And Grant revealed an attempt at playing centre-half for Liberton High convinced him he was a goalkeeper: “I fancied trying something different, but soon realised I wasn’t a centre-half and decided to stick to goalkeeping.”

His career as a defender may have been short-lived, but it did bring Grant the nickname he continues to enjoy to this day: “Bobo.” He explained: “I was a bit bigger than the rest of the boys in the school team at that age and after two games the coach called me Bobo after the Celtic centre-half Bobo Balde.”

Coincidentally, Grant will finish Hibs’ Scottish Cup campaign where he began it having taken a seat on the bench as Fenlon’s side squeezed past Cowdenbeath, the Fife club’s ramshackle Central Park a far cry from the national stadium, with Stack having been sidelined by a calf problem.

He said: “At Central Park it was going through my mind that if anything happened to Mark I could be going on, but you have to be confident in your own ability.”

Grant admits he’d loved to have seen Hibs secure their place in the SPL much sooner than they did, the hope being he might have been given a taste of first team action once safety had been achieved. Now that it has, he has one last opportunity in tomorrow’s match against Inverness Caley.

Few would be surprised in the circumstances if Brown were to step down against his old club, thus avoiding any risk of injury only a week before the final. Grant said: “You never know when your chance might arise, but you have to be ready when it comes and I am sure I will be.”