Danny Swanson remains adamant he will come good as a Hibs player as he prepares to bring a wretched 2017 to an end.
The midfielder’s year got off to the worst start imaginable when, just a couple hours into it, his boyhood friend Shaun Woodburn was killed following a fight in Leith. Needless to say, the past 11-and-a-half months have been an ordeal for Swanson. Although he was able to maintain his fine form at St Johnstone in the early part of the year and subsequently earn himself a dream move to his beloved Hibs, the Leither freely concedes football has not been his primary focus since Shaun’s passing.
Attending court to testify against his friend’s killers shortly after joining Hibs in the summer proved particularly distressing for the 30-year-old, whose first six months at Easter Road haven’t gone as he would have liked. In addition to the obvious trauma of events off the field, he has had to contend with a two-month absence enforced by a torn knee ligament sustained a few weeks after he had scored his first and only goal for the club in a Betfred Cup victory over Livingston in September. Having returned to the match-day squad as an unused substitute in Saturday’s defeat by Aberdeen, Swanson is hopeful that better times lie ahead.
“I didn’t think the off-field stuff would affect my football because I was so excited to be here, but I did have to speak to the gaffer (Neil Lennon) at one point because I felt I was struggling a bit,” he said in a candid interview with the Evening News. “It did affect me because I was going through a period during the court case when I didn’t really care about football, if I’m being honest. The court case had taken over and I didn’t make training for a couple of weeks, so football was right at the back of my mind. I really didn’t care about it. That might sound strange but it wasn’t the main thing in my life at that point. I just couldn’t get my head round what was going on. I couldn’t sleep.
“I spoke to the manager and told him the way I was feeling. He was very good with me. He just told me to relax and concentrate on what I wanted to do. To be fair, training helps with things like that because you can forget about it a bit. It never affected me in games because when you’re on the pitch, all you think about is the game, but it’s definitely affected me in the background. I’ve been unwell a few times this season. It feels like my immune system has been packing in a little bit because I was so stressed. I remember waking up the day of Dundee away (in August) and I felt terrible. I think it was just a case of things getting on top of me a little bit.”
Swanson has been afflicted by depression in the past, but, thankfully, he reports that this has not flared up amid the heartbreak of losing his friend. “Surprisingly, I’ve been fine in terms of depression,” he said. “I did expect it to creep up at some point, but it’s just been general difficulties associated with what happened to Shaun that anyone in the same situation would have had, stuff like lack of sleep which has made me really tired at times. You find your mind races a lot because you’re thinking about so many things. It’s been really difficult, not just for me, but for my whole family and everybody surrounding me. The only difference is that I’ve got to perform in the public eye, which is quite hard.”
Having had to wait until he was 30 to land a move to the club he supported as a boy, Swanson rues the fact he has had such a dark situation running in tandem with what should have been the most exciting time of his career. He is intent on viewing 2018 as a chance to make a fresh start in green and white. “It’s just really unfortunate that this has all coincided with me getting my dream move to Hibs,” said Swanson, who was St Johnstone’s main man last season. “This year’s been a bit of a blur, to be honest. I was excited when I made the move, but the stuff in the background has definitely tarnished it. The court case is finished, so hopefully I can concentrate on playing football now. New Year will be tough because that’ll be a year since it happened, but after that it’s time for me to look at 2018 as a fresh start, maybe get away with my wife for a bit (during the winter break) and then get back to playing football. I want to show the Hibs fans my best form.
Even with everything that’s been going on, I have really enjoyed my time at Hibs but I need a run of games. I’ve not had that because of injury and the form of other players. When I’ve played I’ve been happy enough but I’ve not got enough goals or assists yet, which is what I’m here for. It’s difficult when you come into a new team. I always give my all, no matter what’s happening, but things have not come off for me so far.
“I’m still confident it will all come good for me here. Getting my first goal against Livingston was a big thing for me. I’m confident about my ability. I had a great season last year, so I know I can do it. I just need to get back involved and playing regularly again.”
Swanson has managed only six starts and nine appearances in total for Hibs – the last of which came in the home defeat by Aberdeen in mid-October. After recovering from his knee injury, he is likely to feature for the development team against St Mirren today as he bids to boost his match fitness. “I got the injury in training the day before the derby,” said Swanson. “I slid in with Ryan Porteous and he caught me and it opened up my knee. After training, I was still thinking I might be OK, but I went for a scan and it showed I had a tear down the ligament. The recovery time is usually eight weeks and that’s about now. I’ve been doing a lot of gym work and putting a bit more weight on in the right way, so I feel like I’ll be stronger and hopefully a bit quicker when I’m back playing. It will probably take me a few games to get up to speed but I’m raring to go. I wanted to be back for the Celtic game last weekend but that was maybe a bit too early. It was great to be back on the bench on Saturday. I just want to get going again. I feel great now and I’m ready to go.”
Swanson hopes that having six months to acclimatise to the demands of playing for Hibs will benefit as he bids to make a belated impact. “As a Hibs fan, playing for the club brings its own pressure,” he explained. “Before the Livingston game, the gaffer took me aside and said, ‘just relax and play your normal game’ and that really helped me. Since I’ve been at Hibs, I’ve been getting about 30 texts every Saturday morning from family and friends. I’ve never had that before – it was usually only three or four at my other clubs, but I get a lot more now. That brings extra pressure, but it’s a good pressure because it shows people want you to do well. It gives you that wee bit extra knowing that all your pals are watching. Coming here was my dream move and I want to make it work.”