Revitalised Hibs midfielder Dylan McGeouch is confident he has fully recovered from the groin problems that plagued him last season and is now targeting an injury-free campaign.
The 23-year-old started just 24 of the Easter Road side’s 54 matches last term after struggling to banish the lingering effects of a strain that forced him off early in the home win over Rangers last November. McGeouch found himself unable to generate any momentum in the second half of last season as sporadic pain in his groins continued to afflict him and he played only a bit-part in his team’s hectic run-in to a marathon campaign.
The former Celtic player was forced to limp off early against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup quarter-final at the start of March and sat out the subsequent two months of action, including the League Cup final defeat by Ross County and the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Dundee United.
After returning on the last day of the league campaign at home to Queen of the South, the key midfielder broke down again in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Falkirk in mid-May and was deemed unlikely to be available for the Scottish Cup final the following week. Given his importance to the team, a gamble was taken on his fitness that day and it paid off as he lasted the full 90 minutes of the historic victory over Rangers at Hampden, but McGeouch is hopeful that, after an uninterrupted pre-season and a trouble-free Europa League outing against Brondby on Thursday, his injury problems are now behind him.
“The injury’s fine,” he told the Evening News. “Hopefully that’s me over it now. This is as good as I’ve felt since I first got affected by the injury last year. I had to do a lot of strength work which I’ve been doing over the close-season and also in pre-season. I’ve done a lot of fitness work, and I’ve not missed a training session, so hopefully it’s all behind me and I can get a good run of games. I’m still on a strength programme, so it’s just a case of maintaining that and keeping the wee niggles away. It was a real pain last year being in for a few games, then out for a few, so hopefully this year I can stay injury-free and get a good run of games.”
McGeouch explained that his groin problems were never particularly bad, but they were just niggly enough to prevent him generating a consistent run of games. He believes that coming through a full pre-season will stand him in good stead for the upcoming campaign.
“I first got the injury a few months into last season when I stretched for something and I felt it,” he said. “It wasn’t really a big problem to begin with – it was just a muscle imbalance. But groin strains are a bit of a pest to recover from. Even when you think you can go back into training, they never really feel 100 per cent, so any wee twist or over-stretch can kind of trigger it. It’s an injury that needs time to rest, so it’s about getting the right balance between giving it rest and getting back playing as soon as possible. That involves a lot of strength work.
“I’m feeling strong now. This is the first proper pre-season I’ve had for a few years because I’ve had wee niggles and minor operations in the last few summers. Last year, for example, I had a wee clean-up operation on my ankle which took me out of pre-season, so I only had a couple of weeks with the fitness coach last year as opposed to getting a full four weeks of pre-season. Hopefully getting a pre-season is the difference in terms of me avoiding wee injuries and staying fit this year.”
Having endured such a frustrating campaign, McGeouch took plenty consolation from emerging unscathed from Hibs’ biggest victory in their history two months ago. “Coming through the cup final was massive for me,” he said. “I came off the week before against Falkirk and it didn’t look like I was going to play, but I managed to get myself fit and I played the full 90 minutes. It was a tough game that day so to come through a game like that gave me a lot of confidence. Now I’ve had a lot of good sessions in pre-season, so hopefully I can stay injury-free.”
After establishing himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet, when fit, under Alan Stubbs over the last two seasons, McGeouch is eager to ensure he remains prominent in Hibs’ midfield under Neil Lennon. The Glaswegian knows the new manager well from their time together at Celtic. Lennon signed McGeouch from Rangers as an 18-year-old and gave him all 26 of his first-team appearances at the Parkhead club. “It’s been good working under Neil again,” he said. “He signed me at Celtic, but I never really played a lot under him because they had a lot of internationalists and big players, which made it hard for a young boy to break through. I played as a winger at that time.”
McGeouch was deployed predominantly in central midfield under Stubbs – operating at the base or the right of a narrow diamond – but found himself stationed on the left of a four-man midfield in Lennon’s first competitive game against Brondby last Thursday. “I think that was more to do with the formation, than the gaffer seeing me as a winger,” he said. “I’m not really going to take you to the bye-line and try and cross balls in. I always tend to come inside and try and link-up play. Martin Boyle will give you that pace on the other side.
“I think I’m best playing centrally. I’m comfortable there and I’ve got used to that position. I’ve not played wide much in the last few years, so Thursday was something different for me, but I’m just happy to be on the pitch. If we play 4-4-2, there are plenty options to play in central midfield because we’ve got a lot of central midfielders. The gaffer’s got his hands full in terms of selection but that’s healthy for the club. If he wants me to play wide, I’ll happily do that. I just want to play.”