Fit-again Paul Hanlon is relieved Hibs still have the potential to play in several more big matches this season after the heartbreak of missing last month’s League Cup final through injury.
The centre-back was eagerly looking forward to facing Ross County after playing in every round of his team’s run to Hampden. However, his dream was shattered when he was carried off with a knee injury in the defeat at Dumbarton just two weeks prior to the final.
Hanlon knew at the time he had effectively ruled himself out of a third cup final appearance of his career. Hibs went on to lose 2-1 in a match which the defender admitted was a nightmare to watch. The only consolation for the 26-year-old was that he knew he’d be back fit in time to help his team in their bid to win the Scottish Cup and promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs.
“It was difficult missing out but that’s a part of football,” he said. “It was bad timing, but you just have to get on with it. Deep down I knew pretty much right away I was out of the final with the way my knee swelled up, but until you get it confirmed you have a bit of hope. It was hard watching but that’s just because you want the team to do well. It was the most nervous I have ever been at a game. I was a lot more nervous than I ever would have been playing.
“That’s in the past now and it’s time to move on. I have been involved in Scottish Cup finals before and we have been beaten and you’re away for the summer, that’s it done. But this time it was a case of ‘let’s put it to the back of our mind and let’s go again’. There is plenty to play for and that’s something we’re all excited about. Promotion at the end of the day has always been our aim, no matter how we do it. We’ve still got a chance of doing that, so that’s our main focus.”
Hanlon was grateful to head coach Alan Stubbs for making him and the rest of Hibs’ injured players feel part of the cup final preparations. “The manager was great, I still felt a part of things,” he said. “I went to Spain with the boys, I did my rehab there and it was good to get away rather than have to slog it out in the gym every day. I stayed with the boys the night before the game as well so I felt a part of things. I was just disappointed it didn’t go our way on the day.”
Just a week prior to Hanlon’s injury, Hibs had been riding a wave of euphoria after defeating Hearts in the Scottish Cup in February. At that point, they remained in with a shout of winning the Championship title and also had the League Cup final to look forward to. However, a five-game run without a league win, allied to the agonising defeat by Ross County, has cast a cloud over Easter Road over the past month or so. Hanlon, who returned to action in last weekend’s draw at St Mirren and then helped Hibs return to winning ways against Livingston on Tuesday, insists dressing-room morale remains intact despite the unforeseen slump that allowed Rangers to secure the title in midweek.
“Yeah, the spirit is still there,” said the defender. “We’ve been on a bad run, but we want to get more results under our belt and push on, simple as that.
“The dressing-room is exactly the same. Obviously it’s not as lively when you’re not winning games. No-one is as bubbly and happy as they would be. But, having got that win, hopefully we can go on a run again and we’re all happy come the end of the season.”
Hanlon is out of contract at the end of the campaign, but the long-serving defender insists he is content to wait until nearer the end of the season before resolving his future.
“To be honest, I’m just concentrating on the games just now. It’s huge for the club, this spell coming up, in terms of finances and where they’re going to be. My main aim is to get this club promoted, then we’ll talk. I’m really not even thinking about [my situation]. I’m not pushing them. I’ve been injured for the past month, so my aim has been to get ready, get fit, get this club promoted, and then see what happens after that.
“It’s about playing well for Hibs and taking it from there. If anything happens, whether I sign here or sign wherever, it’s only going to happen if I’m playing well on the pitch. Sitting in the stands, you are not going to get anything.”