James Keatings believes the experience of Kris Commons can give Hibs the edge in the race for the Championship title and hopes the 33-year-old can be persuaded to stay at Easter Road until the end of the season.
Faced with dwindling options in midfield with John McGinn, Fraser Fyvie and Dylan McGeouch sidelined through injury, Hibs boss Neil Lennon drafted in the out-of-favour Celtic star on an emergency loan.
Commons was pitched straight into the action, playing the full 90 minutes against Morton at Cappielow despite not having featured for the Hoops since the end of April and even that was only as a last-minute substitute.
And, although his Hibs deal is only for 28 days, it encompasses four more matches at a vital time, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dundee United – who are neck-and-neck with the Capital outfit at the top of the table – and Dumbarton.
Commons is a familiar figure to Lennon, who signed him from Derby County almost seven years ago, but Keatings also knows the former Scotland internationalist well from their time together at Celtic when he was a youth player.
The striker said: “Kris was someone I looked up to at Celtic. He was always good to me as was Scott Brown.
“He always spoke to the young boys, tried to help them in training and was never big-headed or anything like that.
“He worked hard in the gym, one of the boys who was always in there, a real professional. He’s a great signing for us, a top quality player who has played at the highest level and has bags of experience. What he has done in past years is unbelievable and for him to come in is going to help the team.”
Keatings revealed Commons’ lack of ego was again apparent as he met his new team-mates for the first time the day before their 1-1 draw in Greenock.
He said: “He came in and there was banter straight away with the boys on the bus going to the game speaking to everyone.
“He spoke to the boys before the game and afterwards he had a few words in the changing room. He will be good for us because he has been there and done it.”
Some may have been surprised when, with Commons – renowned as a dead-ball expert – on the pitch, substitute Jason Cummings was allowed to step up to send a stunning free-kick beyond Morton goalkeeper Derek Gaston to salvage a point for Hibs after Gary Oliver had put the home side ahead.
But Keatings admitted it was another indication of Commons’ humility, saying: “Kris took set-pieces at Celtic so he is another option but he’s not going to come in and start bullying boys off things. He’s not like that.
“He is a professional, he knows he has come into a team where certain people take certain things and he’s not going to come in and start to think he is the boss.”
Commons’ lack of game time – he hadn’t started a match since the middle of March – might have been questioned by some but Keatings believes there’s no worries on that score.
He said: “Kris looked sharp in training with us and he has been training every day at Celtic where everything is done at a very fast tempo.
“You see in training some of the stuff he can do and will do so we can learn from him.”
Commons’ close relationship with Lennon is obvious but, insisted Keatings, persuading the player to join Hibs even on a temporary basis is an indication of his manager’s standing in the game. “It shows who the gaffer knows and what he brings to Hibs,” he said, “And who he can bring in which is great. It’s another big name coming to the club.”
While Commons has insisted he isn’t looking any further ahead than the next few weeks, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has made it clear he won’t stand in his way if Lennon wants to extend the loan until the end of the season.
Keatings admitted he’d be delighted if that were to happen even if Commons’ presence is an obstacle to him reclaiming his place in the team having spent seven weeks out recovering from a knee injury.
He said: “Hopefully, Kris has a successful period, enjoys it and wants to stay. I’ve been out and it’s up to me to get match sharp and fight for my place as I have done for the last year.”
As Commons made his debut, Keatings was an unused substitute at Cappielow but, he insisted, sitting on the bench was far better than taking a seat in the stand.
The former Hamilton and Hearts hitman, who damaged the medial ligament in his left knee only minutes after claiming his first goal of the season in the 3-1 defeat of Dunfermline at East End Park in October, said: “It’s been a frustrating period so to be back involved was good.
“It’s depressing sitting in the stand. The Dundee United one was the last game I watched.
“I went up there and was up and down in my seat wanting to be involved. It wasn’t nice to have to watch so I said to myself I wouldn’t go to another game until I was back in contention.
“You want the boys to be winning and it’s hard watching when they are perhaps not doing so well. You want them to do better and you know they can.”
As tough as the last few weeks have been for Keatings, the 24-year-old admitted he felt he had “got lucky” when he learned the injury sustained at East End Park was nowhere as serious as he first feared.
Having ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee as a kid at Celtic, his initial reaction was that he’d done the same to his left knee as he attempted to block a clearance from Dunfermline defender Jason Talbot.
He said: “I thought it was my cruciate when I heard a pop which was exactly the same as when I did it when I was a youngster.
“It could have been a lot worse. I could have been out for a good few months so I got lucky in being able to come back after only seven weeks.”