Dominique Malonga still endearingly refers to his old Hibs team-mates as “my boys”.
Now the former Easter Road striker would love to see one of them step up tomorrow and repeat his exploits from the last time they faced Aberdeen.
Malonga became a cult hero during a fruitful 18-month stint in which he scored 22 goals for the Hibees. The most memorable of those came in a League Cup tie against the Dons at Easter Road in September 2015 when he surged from his own half to net a superb late solo goal and seal a hard-fought 2-0 victory.
With Aberdeen unbeaten domestically and top of the Premiership at the time, that triumph stands as one of Hibs’ most eye-catching results since they slipped out of the top flight three years ago.
Malonga knows the Dons – nine points clear in second place in the Premiership – are an even stronger team now, but is confident his old side, buoyed by securing the Championship title last weekend, can get the better of them again in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“I have unbelievable memories from that game,” he told the Evening News. “At that time, Aberdeen were undefeated and they came to Easter Road and they went down! I scored that goal in the last minute and it was unbelievable.
“There was a lot of hype before that game about Aberdeen. Everybody was talking about them, so for us to win in that fashion in front of our own supporters was brilliant.
“You could tell Aberdeen were a decent team, but they were not better than us. That game showed everybody that Hibs were a really, really good team. I think the fans remember that game well.
“It will be a different game this time but obviously now Hibs have won the Championship, so they will feel free. I think they can play another good game. They just have to enjoy the end to the season and try to go to the final again.”
Having played a prominent role in their previous two attempts to win promotion, Malonga, who is currently with Elche, a Spanish Segunda Division side, was thrilled to see his old team finally get over the line at the third attempt. Even with no prior involvement in Scottish football, the 28-year-old Paris-born Congo internationalist swiftly established during his time in Edinburgh that he was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country.
“Come on, Hibs is not a Championship club,” he said. “It’s a Premiership club and now they go where they deserve to be. The club have deserved to leave the Championship – I’m really happy for my boys.
“I know when I played at Hibs, the main thing was to win the Championship and go up, but it was a process to get there. Hibs is a first-class organisation – all they think about is winning and progressing. Alan built a really good group and lot of those guys are still there. They all trust the process at the club. I’m really happy for the club, for the fans and for my boys. They deserve it.”
Malonga expects Hibs to go up and make their presence felt in the top flight. “They have a very good group and, if everybody stays and they sign some good players, they can be successful,” he said. “When we played against Premiership teams before, we did really well. I don’t think they will have any problem in the Premiership.”
Malonga, who revealed in an interview with the Evening News in November that he regretted leaving Hibs for Italian side Pro Vercelli 15 months ago, has now found contentment after moving to south-east Spain in January. “I’m enjoying it here,” he said. “I like the place and we have a really good team. We will see what happens next season but I think I will stay here because I really enjoy it. It’s totally different to my last club, much better. It’s what I was looking for. I’m working hard and I’m enjoying myself again. I’m really happy.”