DANNY HANDLING admits that he had to toughen up when he was sent out on loan to Berwick last season.
And the young hitman hopes that the physical strength and experience he gained from his time in the Third Division will stand him in good stead if Pat Fenlon calls upon him against Aberdeen tomorrow.
Handling was given his first start for the senior side in the 1-0 midweek defeat to Ross County in Dingwall, a game which saw former Hibee Ivan Sproule score the winner.
Despite the scoreline, Handling did enough to impress the hardy souls who had travelled north to watch Hibs in action and the youngster is in with more than a shout of being involved for the second game in a row when they play host to the Dons.
The two sides clash at Easter Road in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup and Handling admits that he is champing at the bit.
He said: “Hopefully I can play again on Sunday. I felt it went okay against Ross County, it was my first start.
“It was a tough game, it was windy and raining and the weather was horrible. They were a decent team to be fair and Ivan obviously scored.
“The guys are encouraging with me, Jazza, the captain, Eoin Doyle gave me a few words before the game to get me in the right frame of mind.”
Handling has earned rave reviews for his performances in the Under-20s – and also for that short spell at Shielfield which saw him net seven times in just seven games.
He admits that he would not have complained if he had been asked to go back to Ian Little’s side again this season but is hoping that the fact he has been kept as part of the Hibs first-team this season is a sign that he will get the chance to make his mark.
Life in Division Three was certainly a learning curve and Handling continued: “I enjoyed my time at Berwick and I would have gone back if I had chance but Hibs didn’t allow it. They wanted me to stay here.
“I felt it helped a lot going out on loan. My first game was away to Peterhead and some of the centre-halves were massive and they’re older guys. It’s was a big step up for me to be even playing in that game straight away. I felt over the seven games it definitely helped me.
“There were a few dirty tackles but as the games came I got used to it. The tackles flew in.”
Since returning to Easter Road he has been waiting patiently to prove that he can cut it in the top team and is determined to grab any chances which come his way.
The young hitman added: “I’ve been waiting for a while, I have been getting minutes in every second or third game which to me is quite good but I want more on the pitch. I want a lot more time, to get the game on Wednesday was a big step.
“I have been doing okay for the 20s and I did well at Berwick in my time there. Hopefully I can keep that going and get more goals for the team.”
Handling, of course, faces the tough task of dislodging the likes of Leigh Griffiths and Doyle if he is to win a place in Fenlon’s starting line-up on a regular basis.
The former has netted 15 goals already this season while his Irish strike partner has bagged eight. “They have both been on fire,” conceded Handling, “and Shefki Kuqi was getting a game and so was Ross Caldwell, so it was hard for me to get in the team.
“Of late I’ve been doing well in training and I’ve been given the chance to shine and hopefully I’ve done enough to get a game on Sunday.”
The local youngster certainly has plenty of examples to follow when it comes to scoring goals for Hibs.
The likes of Steven Fletcher, Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor have all come through the ranks, while the current attack force have also been hitting the back of the net on a fairly regular basis.
Handling acknowledged: “Players like Sparky, Doyle and Shefki Kuqi, he’s had a tremendous career, and there is always someone to look up. Some of the clubs he’s been at Blackburn, Newcastle, all massive club. One day I would like to achieve what he has.
“I was coming through the youth ranks when Deeks and Garry were in with the first team and guys like that are inspiration to look up to.”
Handling admits that he’s had to make a few sacrifices to give himself the best possible chance of making it as a footballer and that his lifestyle is in complete contrast to some of his friends.
He is hoping, though, that the choices he has made will start to pay off as the season progresses.
“I’m only 18 and my 19th birthday is next Wednesday so I’ve still got a few years in front of me in the game. You never know, my confidence is high from my start and I feel I’m doing well in training.
“My 18th birthday was different from a lot of my mates. That’s part and parcel of being a football player. It’s the sacrifice you need to make and if that’s what you need to do, I’m happy to do it.”