Alex Harris: I now feel ready to fire for Hibs

Alex Harris has played in all of Hibs' pre-season games thus far. Pic: Neil Hanna
Alex Harris has played in all of Hibs' pre-season games thus far. Pic: Neil Hanna
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Two years on and Alex Harris is still remembered for just one thing – that stunning Hampden strike that sparked one of the Scottish Cup’s most remarkable comeback stories.

Three goals down at half-time to Falkirk, Pat Fenlon’s Hibs were heading for an ignominious exit until the then 18-year-old threw them a lifeline, one they seized with both hands as they went on to win the semi-final in extra-time 4-3.

It was the moment when Harris, virtually unknown to even his own club’s supporters despite the fact he’d started both of their previous games against Inverness Caley and Celtic, announced his arrival as a star very much on the rise.

Since then, though, the former Edinburgh Academy pupil has all but faded from view, a broken ankle sustained in the opening game of the following season ruling him out of action for five months, the youngster but a pale shadow of his former self when rushed back into a side just beginning that long slide towards the relegation trapdoor.

Confidence appeared very much the issue even after Alan Stubbs took over from Terry Butcher, Harris finding himself increasingly on the bench and used sparingly until a swap deal saw him head to Dundee on loan as Martin Boyle headed in the opposite direction.

Today, Harris is back at Easter Road, a rejuvenated character and one who is looking to rekindle that early promise, even if his immediate future remains clouded in uncertainty with talk of a further spell on loan not only for himself, but team-mate Sam Stanton and, until he tore his cruciate ligament a week ago, Danny Handling.

Harris, however, has thoughts only of forcing his way into Stubbs’ longer-term plans, pointing out that he was part of the group which headed for the south of Spain for a recent training before featuring in all three of Hibs friendly matches since returning from La Manga.

Under contract for the next two seasons, Harris said: “It’s almost as if I am a brand new addition to the team, trying to prove myself all over again. I’ve been looking forward to coming back. Obviously I know the majority of the players here, but there’s a freshness to it all at the same time.

“I’ve been keeping myself fit over the break,. I’ve had a tough four weeks so far in pre-season, I’m glad to be back and I’m looking forward to the season.

“I feel more confident than I have in the past. I feel my fitness is good as ever – this if probably the fittest I have ever been coming back from the summer break. Now, I feel this is another chance for me to push on and give the manager a headache for the coming games.”

To that end, Harris admits his temporary move to Tayside has given him a new zest for life – at least as far as football is concerned. He said: “I loved it, the manager [Paul Hartley] was really good to me. I went there when they were on a good run of games and played a good bit.

“I didn’t look on it as a big step up going back into the Premiership because Hibs are a massive club and we all know that’s where they deserve to be. I’d played against most of the guys I came up against and having the likes of Kevin Thomson, James McPake and Andy Black – a young boy from Hibs – there helped.

“We’d share a car going to training every morning and Paul Heffernan came in towards the end, so having those familiar faces all helped.”

Nevertheless, Harris also had half-an-eye on what was going on at Easter Road. He said: “There was good communication. The gaffer called me once or twice. The club had scouts at a few of Dundee’s games, but I am a Hibs player so I came to a couple of matches here. And, of course, I spoke to a few of the boys as well.”

But as much as he’s focused on claiming his place in Stubbs’ plans, Harris admitted he’ll be hoping to use his own injury woes of the past to help Handling as he begins the long road to recovery, a minimum of six months on the sidelines following tomorrow’s operation having been predicted for the midfielder.

The winger said: “It was hard luck for Danny, but he is quite an upbeat guy and he has been more upbeat than people might have expected. It’s a bad injury, the first big one he has suffered. It was terrible the way it happened, in a pre-season friendly, but he is a strong character. He’ll look at the positives and I know there will be no slacking off while he is out. He’ll be determined to come back stronger than ever.”

Stanton, too, knows the despair of a serious setback early in his career, suffering a knee injury which required surgery only two games into a loan spell with 
Cowdenbeath and will, Harris knows, also be there for Handling.

He said: “We’ve both been through it and we’ll help him as he begins his rehabilitation. The physios, the medical team and the fitness staff will look after him as we were looked after ourselves. It’s a long road, but he’ll come back flying.”

That was something Harris hoped to do after recovering from his ankle break, but, as he admitted, sometimes the mental scars can take a little longer to heal.

He said: “I didn’t play too many games before I was back in the first team, which didn’t help. I felt I wasn’t as sharp as I had been before and obviously the team wasn’t performing that well although, as a member of it, I have to take responsibility as well.

“I’ve been through it. I was a long time out, but now I am looking forward to this season. It’s all about game time, I’m going on 21 and first and foremost that’s what I am hoping for and then to press on and enjoy a big season with Hibs. We were unfortunate at the end of last season, but now it’s all about looking forward, going one step further and getting promotion this time round.”