Darren McGregor is intent on finishing his career with Hibs, but the on-form defender insists there’s no chance of him asking for a contract extension until his team have secured promotion to the Premiership.
The 31-year-old is one of several key players at Easter Road whose current deals expire at the end of this season, with Fraser Fyvie, David Gray, Lewis Stevenson, Liam Fontaine, Martin Boyle, James Keatings, Grant Holt and Marvin Bartley among the others.
McGregor would love to have his long-term future resolved before the summer, but he is pragmatic enough to understand that, as per the previous two seasons, the club are unlikely to be handing out new contracts until they know what division they will be playing in next season. They go into tomorrow’s home match with Falkirk top of the Championship table on goal difference from the ever-improving Dundee United.
“There’s not been any talks about my contract situation,” McGregor told the Evening News ahead of tomorrow’s Championship clash with Falkirk. “I’ve thought about it long and hard, but for me it’s about securing the Championship and getting promoted before we start talking about contracts. The uncertainty is bubbling away in the back of your mind, but that’s football. There’s a big whack of us out of contract in the summer but we’ve got a job to do here first. The number-one aim is to get out of the league and then once that’s done, we’ve got a bit leverage to say ‘can I talk about my future?’
“I don’t expect the board to be dishing out two and three-year contracts at a time when we don’t know what division we’ll be playing in. I’m happy enough just to get on with it and try and help the team hopefully open up a gap come the end of the season so that we’re confirmed as champions, and then we can start talking about the future. I’ve not spoken to anyone at the club about it but I know that if I play my part in helping us win promotion, there’ll be something there for all of us. To sit here in early November, when there’s still two thirds of the season to go, and ask for a new contract wouldn’t be right because a lot can change.”
McGregor, who only became a full-time footballer six-and-a-half years ago after St Mirren signed him from Cowdenbeath, is unlikely to be difficult to deal with if and when negotiations kick off. “I’d quite happily finish my career at Hibs,” he confirmed. “I’ve come the long way round, but to finally be here at the club I supported, and to be living close by, I want to stay here as long as they’ll have me. The gaffer’s been great with me. He understands me as a person and as a player, so that helps. He’s stuck by me but I know I need to keep performing every week because there’s young guys like Jordon Forster waiting in the wings.”
Even though he is entering the business end of his career and has suffered cruciate ligament damage in both knees, McGregor, Rangers’ player of the year two seasons ago and a standout at St Mirren before that, believes he is currently in the form of his life. “I feel like, through the second half of last season and so far this season, I’ve found a level of consistency that I’ve not maybe had before,” he said. “As you get older, you get a bit smarter in terms of knowing when to go and when not to go, so you conserve energy. I’ve definitely become more cultured in that aspect. I’ve also become more composed and my concentration has improved over the years. When I was younger, I was probably a bit rash, but playing at big clubs like Hibs and Rangers have taught me that composure is the key.
“Injury-wise, I think any footballer would struggle to tell you when they were last 100 per cent. I’ve obviously had two bad injuries so of course I’m going to get a bit pain now and again. We’ve got a great medical team here who are always on hand to look after us if we need a bit of rehab or a day off or whatever. It’s all about monitoring it and managing it but I’m doing fine just now. I feel just as fit as I’ve ever done.
“You always hear players say they’ve got loads left in the tank and their career’s never going to end. Someone like Davie Weir was exceptional in terms of staying at the top into his late 30s. It’s everybody’s aspiration to do that but it’s pretty difficult to do. I know the day will come eventually when I have to stop playing but just now I feel like I’ve still got plenty to offer at the highest level of Scottish football. When the day comes that I feel like I’m a hindrance, I’ll be honest enough to say it.”
McGregor, by his own admission, is a traditional old-school defender whose job is to keep the ball out rather than to ignite attacks in the style of the highly-regarded English centre-back John Stones. No interview goes by without the self-deprecating Leither joking about his limitations as a ball player. Nonetheless, having played in the part-time ranks until he was almost 25, he takes pride from the no-nonsense solidity he brings to a Hibs side who have become renowned for clean sheets in recent times. “For me, when you’re a defender, your main attributes have to be your defensive qualities – winning your tackles and winning your headers,” he said. “If there’s someone standing in front of me I’m competent enough on the ball to pass it to them but I try not to over-complicate it. If I see someone in front of me that wants the ball, I’ll give it to them. As a defender, for me, it’s all about keeping it simple. We have midfielders and wing-backs to do the other stuff.
“I think the ability simply to defend is often overlooked in this day and age because everybody wants their defenders to play like John Stones. If you can get someone who is an unbelievable defender and unbelievable on the ball, then they’ll go right to the top because they’re so rare. We’ve all got deficiencies. I tend to rely on the things I’m good at, which is my speed, my power and my explosiveness. Maybe if I had my time again I might concentrate on the other side of my game, but then, you never know, if I did that, it might affect my ability to keep doing the simple things well. I’ve got Fonts [Liam Fontaine] and Paul [Hanlon] beside me who are better on the ball, so I just let them deal with that side of it.”