The closest Hibs new boy Owain Tudur Jones has ever got to an Edinburgh derby was watching the action from the safety of a city centre hotel’s bar.
But now the Welsh internationalist is desperate to get up close and personal with Capital rivals Hearts, delighted to know he’ll only have to wait until the second game of the season for a match now looked upon as the biggest in the SPL.
Derby-day frolics aren’t totally alien to the 28-year-old midfielder – he saw plenty last season as his old club Inverness Caley and near neighbours Ross County clashed no fewer than six times with Terry Butcher’s side losing just once – while he can also call upon playing for Swansea against Cardiff earlier in his career.
Facing Hearts at Tynecastle in early August will, however, be an entirely different ball game with, he reckons, the financial meltdown which has engulfed the Jambos in recent weeks certain to add some extra bit to an occasion which is never lacking in passion even if the football on offer sometimes isn’t of the highest quality.
And although he knows there will be some Hibs fans revelling in the troubles swirling around Gorgie at the moment, Tudur Jones believes that with half the Old Firm clashes having been lost as Rangers languish in the lower reaches of the newly-formed SPFL, the Scottish game would be even poorer without Edinburgh’s big two going head-to-head.
He said: “To be completely honest, I don’t read too much especially when the season gets going. You learn early in your career that if you read everything about yourself you are going to tear your hair out so I’ve only read bits and pieces about what’s been going on. But it is sad what has happened there.
“I am sure there will be one or two Hibs fans who willl be delighted at their apparent demise but for the league you need the derby, for Hibs to be playing against a competitive Hearts. These are the games you want to play in.”
Tudur Jones admitted he had a great degree of sympathy for the trials and tribulations Gary Locke’s players are going through with Hearts in administration and the club’s entire future under threat, saying: “It’s a job for the players, these boys have to go home with cut wages or no wages. It is one of those cases where you say to yourself ‘I’m glad it’s not me’, but you certainly have a lot of sympathy towards them.”
As always, the fans of both Capital clubs will look upon the derbies as the most important matches of the season but Tudur Jones insisted finding a consistency which will guide Hibs through the season, one in which they hope to build on the evident progress made over the past 12 months, was more of a priority.
He said: “The Edinburgh derby is one which is watched across the country, it’s an exciting one. Last season saw the first Highland derbies in the SPL, it’s on a different level but just as intense. I’ve never been to an Edinburgh derby. I brought my family here at the turn of the year and while my wife was putting the kids to bed I went down to the bar and watched a bit of that one although it was something of a non-event.
“But a derby is a derby, they are exciting games to play in. I won’t have long to wait as it’s the second game of the season and I am sure there will be an extra bit of bite especially with all the goings on behind the scenes at Hearts. However, it’s about more than that. There’s no point Hibs playing Hearts three or four times in a season and winning all of them but being really inconsistent against the other sides. It’s about finding the right balance throughout the season.”
Just as he insisted the lure of playing in such matches wasn’t the reason why he decided to make the move from Caley to Hibs, Tudur Jones claimed the thought of recapturing his place in the Welsh squad or European football – something he experienced early in his career with Bangor City – didn’t lie behind his decision.
He said: “Whether Hibs were in Europe or not was an irrelevance. It’s an added bonus but what is important is that while we want to give it a right good go in Europe and try to do well and push on through the rounds we concentrate and peak for the League games as well.”
Capped six times for Wales, Tudur Jones applied the same thinking to his international aspirations. He said: “It’s not something I look at too much. I am 28, I am realistic. I got back into the squad as a late call around February or March but I know that in my position the Welsh squad there are top players who play in the Premier League week in, week out so not being in the squad is fine.
“But if I am playing well on a regular basis and something happens that will be brilliant but, as with European football, it is not the reason for me signing for Hibs. My priority is wanting to do well for the club.”
The second of manager Pat Fenlon’s summer signings, Tudur Jones revealed he’ll be happy to sit back and allow the Easter Road “young guns” grab the limelight, admitting he’s been impressed by the young talent currently breaking into the first team.
He said: “I think over the last few years, and certainly last season at Inverness, I brought a little bit of stability to the side. I’m certainly not going to sell myself as someone who is going to take on four people and stick it in the back of the net. It’s about different qualities and I see myself bringing a bit of calm to a game. I’m not shy to get my foot on the ball or shy of getting stuck in.
“It’s a young squad, we hve a lot of talented young players who can take people on and grab the headlines if you like. I’ll try to use my experience to help the lads along.”