Pain of relegation was factor in keeping Paul Hanlon at Hibs

Paul Hanlon feels duty bound  to help Hibs return to the Premiership

Paul Hanlon feels duty bound to help Hibs return to the Premiership

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Paul Hanlon considered ending his love affair with Hibs, wondering how he could top ending the wait of 114 years to lift the Scottish Cup.

Having made his debut for the club at the age of 17, the defender stood at a crossroads, his contract about to expire and with the Capital outfit facing a third season in the Championship.

The easier thing might have been to walk away, to seek pastures new but, for the 26-year-old, the tug of home proved too strong, the lifelong Hibs fan agreeing a new three-year deal, citing “unfinished business” as a key factor in his decision to stay.

“I felt like I was part of the team that got relegated,” he revealed. “So it would be great to be in the team that comes back up and keep us there. There were a number of factors but I’d say it was one.

“It was a tough summer, there were a lot of things going on in my head. How can you get any better than winning the Scottish Cup? Is it time to try something new?

“I’m delighted with the decision I made. It was just before the new manager came in and he’s been great for me, it seems to have worked out pretty well.”

Hanlon has been an ever-present for Lennon this season, clocking up his 300th appearance for Hibs against Morton last weekend and producing performances which have had a number of people touting the former Scotland Under-21s captain for consideration by Gordon Strachan.

Team-mate Darren McGregor was the latest to add his name to that list but while admitting that, naturally, he’d love to pull on the dark blue jersey at full international level, Hanlon insisted he’s full focus is on Hibs.

He said: “I saw Daz said that in the paper the other day and it’s good to have my mates sticking up for me, but it’s honestly not something I worry about or think about too much.

“There’s too much to think about with Hibs and trying to do well here. If it comes along then I would be delighted and it’s something I would be really proud of.

“But I’m not going into games worrying about it or thinking ‘I need to do well if I’m going to get in the Scotland squad’.”

Hanlon did concede, though, the fact he’s currently playing in the second tier of Scottish football might be counting against him saying: “If you were a manager who had a player in the English Championship and one in the Scottish Championship, then it is easier to pick the one in England because it’s a much higher level to play at.

“But all I can do is try to do my best to get Hibs out of the Championship and into the Premiership. That’s my main aim and I’m just trying to play well every week.”

Hanlon was eight days short of his 18th birthday when Mixu Paatelainen, who had just replaced John Collins as manager, found himself faced with an injury crisis ahead of his first game in charge, a Scottish Cup tie against Inverness Caley.

Both David Murphy and Lewis Stevenson were injured but Paatelainen had no hesitation in taking the advice of his coaching staff which was that the then little known Hanlon would be an able deputy.

He recalled: “I think a lot of people need that bit of luck to get into the team. For Lewis to get an injury, touch wood, that doesn’t happen very often, so that was my stroke of luck.

“I performed okay on my debut and once you have proved that you can handle yourself and you are in there, it’s about trying to make a name for yourself. Once I was in there, it was about working hard to stay there.”

Hanlon’s sudden promotion meant he missed out as the club’s Under-19 side won a league and cup double that season, but for the youngster first-team football was the bigger prize.

He said: “It was a great achievement. I went to watch a lot of the games and the youth cup final at Hampden so it was great for them. It was disappointing to miss out, but I would always rather be in the first team.”

Nevertheless, Hanlon admitted away back then, January 12, 2008, he could never have envisaged playing 300 first-team games by the age of 26.

He said: “If you had told me that I would have thought that was brilliant, but it is just another game really.

“There aren’t many people who play so many games for the one club and there are some who won’t get to 300 in their whole career. It is great to play so many games and hopefully I will have many more appearances to come.”

Remarkably for a central defender, Hanlon has only been shown the red card once, and that for handling the ball on his own goal line in Inverness.

He said: “It was one of those reaction things, I didn’t even think about it, it just happened.

“One red card isn’t so bad. People will say he either tackles fairly, some will say a lack of commitment, but I do think that’s not a bad record.

“You don’t go on to the pitch to get send off, all that does is hinder the team. There’s no good going to come out of it so I am quite proud of that.”