It’s almost 34 years since Hibs last played in the group stages of the League Cup – but it is a memory Mickey Weir will always treasure.
He was handed his debut – at left-back – when still a couple of months short of his 18th birthday for the Easter Road club’s final game in a section which also included Celtic and Kilmarnock.
Only 738 fans were at Airdrie’s old Broomfield ground to see Pat Stanton’s side run out 3-0 winners but the sparse crowd mattered little to Weir. He recalled: “It was never the most welcoming of places but for a young boy going from the reserves into the first team it seemed a lot of people.
“Going there was all part of it, part of your apprenticeship as a young player.”
Weir, of course, went on to thrill Hibs fans for years with his wing play but that wasn’t the case that November day.
He said: “The one thing I do remember is I played at left-back. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have a clue as I’d never played there before in my life.
“I’d imagine that if you were to ask Pat today he wouldn’t be able to tell you why. I remember there were a few comments about such a small guy playing there but you play wherever the manager asks you.”
Stanton fielded a young side that day as Hibs’ hopes of progressing had already come to an end. The average age of the team was just 21 years and 11 days and it was packed with youngsters such as Gordon Hunter, Paul Kane, Pat McCurdy, Kevin McKee and Robin Rae.
Weir said: “The club wasn’t in a great place at the time, but Pat had the faith to throw in a few youngsters. I loved it. We were just young lads, Mike Conroy was probably our most experienced player.
Weir believes current boss Neil Lennon will look to use the early stages of the BetFred Cup, as the competition is now known, as preparation for the club’s return to the Premiership.
And the prospect of Hibs finding arch-rivals Hearts in the same section when the draw is made tonight will, he insisted, add more than a fair degree of intrigue to proceedings.
He said: “I’m sure both Hibs and Hearts fans would love to have an early Edinburgh derby. It’s great Hibs are now back up in the top flight and although we’ve had a few derbies over the past three years, everyone will want to see these games back among the league fixtures.
“These are the games you pay your money to watch, whether it’s Hibs v Hearts or Celtic against Rangers.
“But it will be interesting to see how Neil Lennon approaches these games. Will he, as happened all those years ago, look to blood some young players or, more likely, treat these matches as preparation for the new season, a chance to bed his new players in.
“You can train all you like in pre-season, but nothing beats games. You need to get up to speed at the start of the season and, to be honest, it takes you five or six games before you feel fully fit.”
While Hibs could find themselves pitched against Hearts, they could also face Ross County, Dundee or newly relegated Inverness Caley who are also seeded in the competition’s Northern Section which will consist of four groups of five teams, the Easter Road side listed among the second seeds.
Weir, who, of course, won the Skol Cup as it was then called in 1991, said: “Whoever they get I think it will give Neil and his players a good insight into what they’ll be facing this coming season and the manager a chance to see how his team is coming together.”
Lennon’s squad is certainly coming together, Nigerian internationalist Efe Ambrose agreeing a two-year deal to join earlier signings Danny Swanson and Simon Murray but, Weir believes, the capture of the former Celtic defender is a signal of Hibs’ declared intention of ensuring they aren’t back in the Premiership simply to make up the numbers.
He said: “I think for someone like Efe he’s come to Easter Road on loan from a big club and has seen plenty of similarities. Just look at last season’s crowd and the fact more than 10,300 season tickets have already been sold and that tells you Hibs are moving in the right direction, if Neil can get it going it’s a great place to play.”
If being reminded of his debut suddenly made Weir feel all of his 51 years, so, too, did the news of Dundee United striker Murray moving to Easter Road – Simon being the son of his former team-mate Gary. He said: “We used to call Gary ‘Charger’ because he was a centre forward who chased everything. He was big, strong, never gave defences a minute’s peace and you can see a lot of that in Simon today.”