Darren McGregor has revealed how a night spent munching sweets at the cinema gave him the appetite to send Hibs on their way to the Championship title.
The big defender powered home an early header to claim his first goal of the season against Queen of the South, quickly followed by his second, before skipper David Gray clinched a 3-0 victory which, allied to Falkirk’s draw with St Mirren, left the Capital side 11 points clear with only three games remaining.
Confirmation of that result in Falkirk prompted scenes of wild celebration, players and fans alike relieved that, finally, Hibs had secured their return to the top flight of Scottish football at the third time of asking, manager Neil Lennon hoisted aloft as the obligatory strains of Sunshine on Leith drifted around the stadium.
Admitting he couldn’t have timed the first double he’s ever scored in his senior football career any better, McGregor said: “I just felt like we’d been dragging our heels for the last four or five weeks. There was an apprehension.
“You think about the worst-case scenario, maybe I am a pessimist. We’ve been desperate to get it over the line. We knew St Mirren were in form and they’d cause Falkirk problems. It was great we were able to do it in front of 17,000 fans at Easter Road because they’ve backed us brilliantly all season.”
McGregor’s pre-match preparations might not have met with total approval in all quarters, but the 31-year-old claimed a mega-large bag of sweets as he watched the new Fast and Furious film with his mates the night before had fuelled his performance.
He said: “I don’t normally eat sweets before a game but one of my mates bought an extra large pick ‘n’ mix, he brought back about £15 of sweets. I went for the toffee ones and the cola bottles, maybe that gave me the energy to get up there.”
McGregor’s opener came minutes after news that Rory Loy had given Saints the lead against their nearest challengers, but, he admitted, it was a long overdue goal.
He said: “I was getting plenty of stick. Before John [McGinn] took the free-kick I told him to ping it in at the back post. There was just something in me. I knew I had the appetite to score. The second was a great delivery from Jason [Cummings] and I caught it with the outside of my foot.”
After helping steer the Easter Road side to their first Scottish Cup triumph in 114 years in his first season with the club, it came as no surprise to hear McGregor, a Leith-born Hibs fan, describe the past two years as the best of his career.
“It’s been hard to take it all in,” he admitted. “As a boy you grow up playing in the back garden with friends. You’ve jumpers for goalposts and ambitions of playing at whatever level, But to play for the club you supported, given the road I have had, I’m so thankful every time I’m on the pitch.
“People ask what it means to be a Hibs supporter doing this and it’s hard to sum up in a couple of lines. I pinch myself every day that I’m in this situation. Leaving Rangers to come here was a great achievement. Winning the Scottish Cup was massive.
“To play for the club I’ve supported and get promoted – I’m on cloud nine. I’m trying to take it all in. I’ve such a hunger and a desire to do well for the club and the fans. It’s not just me, my family and friends are all Hibs fans.”
While Hibs have had to deal with the harsh reality of a prolonged spell in the second tier of Scottish football McGregor admitted that, like everyone else, he didn’t see it coming as he revealed the moment he learned the club had lost its relegation play-off with Hamilton. He said: “I was actually at a friend’s wedding when the second leg was being played. I never gave it a second thought because we were 2-0 up from the first leg. I took it for granted we’d be fine.
“I was told halfway through the wedding. It was a sore point. The connection was there because I was a fan, but it’s much stronger now I’m playing. We’ve missed out in the last couple of years and I’m so grateful we’ve got it done and dusted.”
However, with the primary goal of promotion achieved, McGregor insisted Hibs season was far from finished, looking forward to trying to take the next step towards retaining the Scottish Cup when they face Aberdeen this weekend – and beyond.
As far as this coming Saturday is concerned, he said: “It will suit us to go in as underdogs. We’ll give Aberdeen a right good game and potentially win. If you look at the Rangers game last year [the final], we were coming off the back of the play-off and League Cup final defeats.
“It was our saving grace. Everyone was looking at us thinking ‘same old Hibs’. We’re the underdogs but there’s still pressure. I truly believe we have a chance, even if Aberdeen are a right good side with very few deficiencies in their team.
“After waiting 114 years to win it once, it would be a massive achievement to win it again – as rare as me scoring two goals in a game. But it could happen because we’re only two games away from winning it. I think you perform at your best when you can go and express yourselves with the shackles off.”
And although he is one of numerous Hibs players out of contract in only a few weeks time – although Lennon has said they have all been offered new deals – McGregor admitted he’s in no hurry to go anywhere else.
He said: “One hundred per cent I see myself here next season. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I’m so happy here and I think that shows in my football and my family life.
“The buzz I get playing for Hibs is far better than anything else I’ve experienced for any other team. Sometimes it can be too much. When we are not playing well or I’m not performing then I can beat myself up about it.”
McGregor is in no doubt that Hibs will make their mark in the Premiership next season. He said: “Every footballer aspires to play in the top league, to lay against your rivals at the best stadiums. So that means Ibrox, Celtic Park, Pittodrie, and the rest. We’ve got a great stadium and training ground, we have the foundations to be a big force in Scotland.”