Sleepless after cup win, but Hanlon won’t be caught napping

Paul Hanlon is approaching his ninth year at Easter Road and says things have never been better
Paul Hanlon is approaching his ninth year at Easter Road and says things have never been better
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While jubilant Hibs fans streamed out of Easter Road heading for the local pubs to celebrate their Scottish Cup victory over arch-rivals Hearts, Paul Hanlon slipped home for a quiet cup of tea and a slice of toast.

As much as he tried to unwind, Hanlon revealed he spent a sleepless night as the replay triumph, the scenes it provoked and that stirring rendition of Sunshine on Leith which echoed around the ground on the final whistle, played over and over again in his head.

However, he admitted, it also made him think of just how things could be if Alan Stubbs’ side – chasing glory on three fronts – could end this season on a high as they contemplate a League Cup final, a Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness Caley and a nail-biting fight with Rangers for the Championship title.

“I was on such a high that I was up for half the night. You just can’t get sleep,” said Hanlon. “I watched a bit of TV but you are still buzzing from the game and you end up staying up all night.

“The scenes were incredible. Loads of people, even guys who aren’t Hibs fans, have been in touch to say the ‘Sunshine on Leith’ was amazing and it would have been unbelievable to be there. It just whets your appetite for what could happen if we are successful.”

But, if heads were in the clouds on Tuesday night, feet were firmly back on the ground the next morning as Stubbs’ players began to prepare for tomorrow’s Championship match against Alloa Athletic, aware they’d let a chance slip to claw back Rangers with a disappointing 0-0 draw against Livingston last weekend only hours after the Ibrox outfit themselves had been held by the Wasps.

Hearts had become Hibs’ fourth Premiership scalp this season – Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone having all been taken care off as Hanlon and his team-mates negotiated their way to a Hampden showdown with yet another top-flight club, Ross County, in next month’s League Cup final.

Hanlon, though, conceded there wasn’t much point in doing that if precious points were allowed to slip with promotion still very much the priority.

He said: “There is no point winning against Premiership teams and then not getting promotion back to where we should be. That is our aim. We are not contemplating not winning promotion, the focus is – no matter how we do it – getting back to the top flight.

“It is about playing well every week. There is no point raising our game against Premiership teams and then dropping points in the league. We are ready for that. The players we have are more than capable of playing in the Premiership.

“As the manager has said a few times, it’s about looking ahead to the next game. That is what we have been doing all season and the games are coming so thick and fast that we are able to just move on.”

Such is the mood of optimism which has descended on Easter Road this season, it’s hard to recall that less then two years ago the Edinburgh club had descended into the equivalent of a footballing civil war. threatening to tear itself apart in the wake of a shock relegation, the culmination of years locked in a downward spiral.

Hanlon said: “I was injured for the last couple of months of that season and was sitting watching it all unfold. It couldn’t have got much worse.

“It’s night and day to how it was then. The fans are coming back in their numbers. I didn’t enjoy that time, I was stuck in the gym trying to get my knee better.

“It was hard, we were in a rut no matter what we tried to get a win. Hard for everyone but everything is positive now.”

It will surprise few, then, to hear Hanlon describe the present as his most enjoyable time at the club. He said: “I’m coming up for nine years as a first-team player and have played with good players and decent teams, but the way it is now – with the way the manager has us – is the closest, tightest group I have ever been involved with. Allied with the ability in the squad, it is just a great place to be.

“It’s definitely the most enjoyable time I have had here, you are just delighted to come in every morning.

I am enjoying my football going into every game with confidence. The manager is bringing the best out of me.”