He’d hardly kicked a ball in anger for more than seven months, but Michael Hart didn’t need to be asked twice when Hibs caretaker boss Billy Brown came calling.
Anxious to tighten up that porous Easter Road defence for his first match in charge, Brown turned to the experience of 31-year-old Hart despite the star having been out of action since the beginning of April.
Although he’d only enjoyed 45 minutes of a bounce game in the previous three months, Hart had no hesitation in telling Brown he was ready to face Kilmarnock.
His comeback lasted only 45 minutes, Brown forced into half-time changes which salvaged a precious point for the struggling Capital outfit, but now Hart has his fingers firmly crossed that the injury curse which has dogged his time at Easter Road is finally over.
A knee injury brought last season to a premature end for the former Aberdeen, Livingston and Preston North End defender and he was blighted again as Hibs prepared for the new campaign. An ankle knock suffered in the second pre- season game against Livingston ruled Hart out of the opening day’s action but while he recovered for the trip to Lancashire to face Blackpool, he lasted just five minutes of Sunderland’s visit to Edinburgh before feeling “something pop” in his groin.
It turned out Hart had ripped cartilages off the bone and although no operation was deemed necessary, it heralded another extended spell on the sidelines, one which came to an unexpected end as Brown called Hart in for a chat just 24 hours before Killie were due in town.
Today Hart said: “I was as surprised as anyone to be playing. I’d been training for five or six weeks but I’d only had half a reserve match. But Billy said I’d done everything asked of me in training, that he wanted some experience to try to keep it tight at the back.
“He asked if I felt all right about going straight back in and I said ‘yes’. I’d rather be playing against Killie than in a reserve game.”
Manuel Pascali’s goal seven minutes from the interval, however, brought Hart’s comeback to an abrupt end as Brown introduced Richie Towell and Leigh Griffiths as he reshaped the team in the search of an equaliser, which came through the on-loan Wolves striker.
And although disappointed, Hart insisted he had no complaints. He said: “I was enjoyed the game and felt great but it was a disappointing first-half performance from the team.
“I think if it had still been 0-0 at half-time I’d probably have stayed on. I was happy with the way I played, other than their goal Killie hadn’t been breaking us down. However, being a goal down meant we had to go for it and Billy felt others had ‘more legs’ over me, but that’s just something that comes from playing games.
“If I’d had three or four reserve games I might have complained a bit but I’m big enough and ugly enough to accept what happened. It worked, so great.”
And Hart revealed he had paid no thought to returning to a side which has struggled all season despite knowing full well all eyes would be on him.
He said: “Any player worth his salt would feel the same way, regardless of how tough the going might be. You want to be out there playing, doing your bit for the club as best you can.
“I’d really missed my football having been out for so long but you have to be prepared mentally to play whenever you are asked.”
Having played in Tuesday’s bounce match against Livingston – a game won 3-0 by Hibs – Hart now hopes to play some part in Saturday’s clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park and another closed doors match next week after which, he believes, he can be declared finally ready for the rigours of the SPL.
After being signed by John Hughes, Hart returns with Hibs seeking yet another manager with Colin Calderwood having been sacked in his absence from the field but, he insisted, that won’t be a distraction.
He said: “It’s been a long time coming, a very frustrating and disappointing time for me. I think if I were to sit down and think about my time at Hibs and the injuries I’ve had I’d probably end up in tears but I’m a positive individual.
“It’s a fresh start for everyone but especially myself, the chance to come back in and show what I can do and I felt I did that a little bit on Saturday, although I am a bit away from match fitness.
“In the nicest possible way, it doesn’t matter who becomes manager. I’ll just continue to do my job and to give it 100 per cent. I train the way I play, I work hard every day and look to give the best of myself.
“Whether it’s Billy Brown, Colin Calderwood or John Hughes it doesn’t make a difference to me as a player, there’s a pride in the way you perform, your work ethic which doesn’t change.
“Billy has changed training a bit, the tempo is up, it’s been a bit more personal and perhaps we needed it that way. He’s gone back to basics, strikers play as strikers, midfielders as midfielders and defenders as defenders.
“Training is simple, work hard, do the simple things well, give him your all and he doesn’t ask for any more.”
While Hart has been notable for his presence on matchdays, watching avidly from the stand, he admitted he detected a nervousness within the team which has undoubtedly been caused by a miserable run of results, not least the fact Hibs have won just one SPL match at home since February.
He said: “I’ve been in the game a long time and I know you go through spells when nothing seems to go for you. We know how good a team we can be but we know we need a win.
“When confidence is up you pass the ball and score goals but we aren’t doing that at the moment. We looked scared to get on the ball, nervous and we didn’t start the game properly.
“Then the fans get on your back and it becomes a vicious circle.”