Paul Hanlon today revealed how he feared being out of action for eight months as he battled to overcome a freak “one-in-a-million” hip injury.
The Hibs star thought nothing of it as Aberdeen’s Gavin Rae crashed into him at the end of January, the sort of collision between two players the central defender has been well accustomed to throughout his career.
As the only outfield player in Pat Fenlon’s squad to have played every minute of every game this season, the former Scotland Under-21 captain battled on through the pain barrier for five more matches before being forced to admit defeat.
A scan disclosed a “calcification” – basically bone forming on the muscle – with a course of tablets and four weeks of complete rest offered as, hopefully, the cure. But it was only as he read up on the problem that Hanlon discovered he could end up sidelined not only for the rest of the campaign but well into next season.
The 23-year-old said: “I can remember the exact moment it happened, a tackle on Gavin Rae at Pittodrie as I gave away a foul on the edge of our box. His knee clattered into my hip with his full body weight behind it. It’s the sort of thing that happens time and again in football, a sort of ‘dead leg’ and I thought nothing more of it.
“I played on for a few weeks but it eventually got a bit too much. I had it scanned and there were complications. There was a calcification, the start of bone forming on top of my muscle. The physio and doctors said it was so rare you could get a million dead legs your life and it wouldn’t happen.
“There was scarring and fluid around the area, but for some reason my body produced calcium which formed bone on the muscle and restricted my movement. It’s the sort of injury I’ve had so many times, but for some reason this happened.
“Basically I had to rest completely for four weeks and take a course of tablets for four weeks and hope it would go away. It was really just a waiting game, waiting to see how my body would react to the tablets and if it managed to settle down or not. Thankfully once the tablets were done I had full range of movement and no pain in the hip any more.”
Hanlon admitted, however, that he endured a fretful spell on the sidelines. He said: “It was one of those ones you did not know exactly what was going to happen, and that was a bit worrying. There was no exact timetable put on it, just a case of taking the tablets, resting for four weeks and then seeing where we would go from there.
“Some people were saying it might be the end of the season, but, while the physio and doctors didn’t say this to me, I read up on it and the worst case scenario was six to eight months, which would have taken me well into next season. Thankfully that isn’t the case, the tablets and the rest have done the trick, although it drove me a bit mad to be stuck in the house all that time unable to do anything at all.”
Adding to Hanlon’s despair was the feeling of helplessness as he watched Pat Fenlon’s side slowly but surely slip down the SPL table, putting their place in the top six in jeopardy with their worst fears realised as defeat by Celtic on the final day before the “split” condemned them to playing out the rest of the season in the bottom half although, of course, Hibs have a road to redemption with the hope of overcoming Falkirk at Hampden on Saturday to play in the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup for the second season in succession.
As such, Hanlon admitted his return to action at Celtic Park was something of a “bitter sweet” occasion, his delight at being back playing tempered by a timid performance which allowed Neil Lennon’s players to stroll to a comfortable 3-0 win.
Now, though, Hanlon has his eyes firmly fixed on making amends against the Bairns. He said: “Not being in every day with the boys was frustrating, leading up to the injury I had played every minute of every game so to be told to rest for four weeks was a bit gutting. I’m not used to being injured, this was the longest I’ve been out through injury since I broke into the first team.
“As the injury looked like it could have been quite serious there was no real target date, it was a case of making sure I was right, but as time wore on I felt I might be in with a chance of the Celtic game and if not then definitely the semi-final. So I was glad to be back against Celtic although, obviously, I was disappointed with the way the game went and the goals we lost.
“I knew it was going to be a big ask to be going back in, especially against Celtic with the quality they have but I was delighted the gaffer gave me the chance. I’d been training with the team last week and although I felt fine in the game I know I was a couple of yards behind. I need to get that sharpness back, but that’s only to be expected when you have been out for a bit.”
As disappointing as Hibs’ League season may be finishing, Hanlon insisted that won’t be allowed to overshadow pursuit of another Cup final outing. He said: “We always knew we were going to be up against it, going to Celtic Park having to win while hoping results elsewhere would go our way. But we also knew we could have done better in the preceding weeks to have secured our place in the top six. If we’d been making a last-gasp bid for it the outcome might have been viewed a bit differently but the fact we were up there, second, third and fourth for so long makes it so, so disappointing for everyone concerned with the club.
“Now though, there is nothing we can do about it. We have a massive game on Saturday to look forward to. We’ll have thousands of Hibs fans there to support us. They’ll be up for it, the players will be up for it and if we can perform as we know we can then, while we are under no illusions as to the fact we face a tough game, then I’m sure we can get through to the final again.”