“I’d play anywhere, even in goals, just to get a game,” has been the plaintive cry from many a player who has found himself on the fringes of his manager’s plans.
But as far as Hibs kid Danny Handling is concerned they are not empty words, the teenage striker pulling on the goalkeeper’s gloves for the final few minutes of Hibs Under-20s’ match against Dundee after keeper Sean Murdoch was sent off.
Having used all his substitutes coach James McDonaugh found a willing volunteer in the 18-year-old, who had paved the way for what was ultimately a 3-1 win at Dens Park with a goal in a fourth successive victory for the Easter Road kids. Handling’s first task was to face the penalty resulting from Murdoch’s “last man challenge” and, he revealed today, he was left kicking himself for not saving it.
He said: “I muck about in goals at training from time-to-time and a few of the boys have said they think I’m a half decent goalkeeper so with all the subs having been used, James looked to me.
“Sean must have huge hands because the gloves were massive and the goalkeeper’s jersey was far too big for me as well. I was a bit nervous, there were still six minutes to go and I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was wondering if they were going to shoot from everywhere to test me.
“The guys were saying I had nothing to lose at the penalty but I was quite angry with myself for not saving it. I looked at a replay afterwards and I was quite close to it.”
Handling admitted, though, that he’s in no rush to repeat the experience, hoping Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon will take more notice of the fact that his strike at made it 12 goals in as many games for the youth team than his heroics between the sticks.
Having claimed his first goal for Fenlon’s side as he completed the scoring in that 4-0 demolition of Motherwell at Fir Park at the end of October, Handling has got no further than the bench in each of Hibs’ subsequent matches and found himself missing out altogether as Fenlon’s players ended their derby hoodoo by knocking holders Hearts out of the Scottish Cup thanks to only five substitutes being allowed in the competition rather than the seven who strip for SPL action.
While revealing he’s felt both frustrated and disappointed at lack of first-team action, Handling conceded he hardly has any grounds for complaint, with Fenlon having named an unchanged team over the course of the last five matches, a run in which the Edinburgh club have made second place in the table their own as well as progressing to the last 16 of the Cup.
Although he’s had fellow teenagers Ross Caldwell, Sam Stanton, Bradley Donaldson and Alex Harris sitting alongside him, Handling only has to look at Ivan Sproule and Shefki Kuqi making up the numbers on the bench to realise patience is the name of the game.
He said: “I’ve been a bit disappointed, but I can see where the gaffer is coming from. He’s getting a strong team out every week and there’s more than just me wanting to play. Everyone wants to get out there and play but it is the good of the team which comes before any individual.
“Managers strive for consistency of selection, that helps bring good results and that’s what the gaffer has had in recent weeks. When the team is doing well he won’t want to change it. Even making substitutions will give him some thought. When we are in a winning position I’m sure he won’t want to make changes simply for the sake of it.
“You can just imagine the reaction if we were looking good for the win in a game and he put three youngsters on and we ended up losing. It’s something of a Catch 22 situation for the likes of myself, there might be more opportunities if the team wasn’t doing so well – but none of us want that.
“It’s good being part of it all, there’s a great atmosphere about the club.
“The boss did say at the start of the season he’d give the young players a chance and he has been true to his word. He’s had a good number of us on the bench each week and we’ve all had some time on the pitch.
“Having five boys from the same Under-20 team involved in the first-team squad is pretty good for any club, we all know we still have a lot to learn so we enjoy training with the squad, the game time we do get and we’ve got a good Under-20 side which we all enjoy playing in.
“It’s a case of doing as well as we can in those games and making sure we are ready to take that chance should it come along.”
Handling will travel north with Fenlon’s squad later today ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle with fingers crossed he’ll get the nod at some point but well aware the Capital side face a tough match against the team which lies just two points behind them in the table, Terry Butcher’s players having the incentive of knowing a win would see them leapfrog Hibs into second place.
He said: “It will be a tough game, Caley are doing really well and have put a few good results together. They’ve beaten Celtic and Aberdeen away in their last two games which is a terrific achievement.
“However, we’ve done equally as well so far this season and following that great result against Hearts the boys are determined to follow it up with another good performance which, hopefully, will bring another three points.”