Big interview: Hibs' Stevie Mallan on fans criticism, his own performances, Hecky's words of wisdom and rollercoaster ride
Midfielder ready to hit top gear after being reinstated into team
In his 18 months at Hibs, Stevie Mallan has been named the club’s player of the year while almost simultaneously being written off by some supporters.
Still only 23, the former St Mirren and Barnsley midfielder is already well acquainted with the challenges of trying to maintain peak form at the top level as well as the volatile nature of public perception whereby a player can go from star signing one week to hopeless dud the next.
“Paul Heckingbottom said to me that you’re never as good as people say and you’re never as bad as people say,” smiled Mallan as he reflected on a start to the season in which he has endured a form dip and no shortage of criticism. “When he said that, it was something I really clocked on to. When you’re doing well, people can think you’re a world-beater, then when you’re doing murder, they can bring you back down to the lowest you can go.”
Managing the mind is key in such situations, something Mallan appears to have been able to achieve. “You need to stay in that consistent zone in your own mind where if you’re not doing well, you just keep working hard and if you’re doing great you have to keep yourself level-headed and not listen to the hype of the media and fans and things like that,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in your own wee bubble and make sure you’re working hard and trying to do as well as you can.”
Although the criticism can be stinging at times, Mallan has learned the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. He is aware that while some supporters may have wanted him out of the team, there are plenty others who viewed him as Hibs’ main man last season, when he cleaned up at the club’s player of the year awards.
“It can be hard not to bite,” he smiles. “I’ve seen my fair share of negative comments on social media and it can be tough, especially for my family. It’s hard for them not to bite when they see it. I have to tell them not to say anything and not to rise to it because that’s what some people thrive off. You’ve just got to keep yourself to yourself and keep working hard.
“Even though I’ve had a bit of criticism, the Hibs supporters have generally been great with me. I feel I’ve done well here and I’ve spoken to a lot of fans who have praised me as well. Everybody has fans getting on their backs at some point – I had it for a period at St Mirren as well. Every player gets it. You get moments in your career when you’re seen as the best player and moments when you’re seen as the worst. You just have to keep yourself in that zone.”
Mallan is already working under his third manager since Neil Lennon brought him to Hibs from Barnsley in 2018. Ironically, he had worked under both Heckingbottom and Jack Ross at his previous clubs. The midfielder’s value to the Easter Road side is underlined by the fact he started the vast majority of games under both Lennon and Heckingbottom, sitting out only four games in all competitions during his time at Hibs prior to the Yorkshireman’s departure early last month. Heckingbottom’s exit led to Mallan being benched for five consecutive games – his only sustained period out of the Hibs team – before he was restored to the starting line-up on the left of a midfield diamond for last weekend’s 3-0 win over Aberdeen. Ross played Mallan regularly at St Mirren and looks certain to rely heavily on him now that they have been reunited at Easter Road.
“When Jack first came in it was tough for me to get in the team because the boys were doing really well and you can’t change a winning team,” said Mallan of his recent omission. “It was the first time since I came to Hibs that I’ve been out the team for any period of time, so I just had to bide my time.
“I expected (interim manager) Eddie May to change things up after Hecky left, but he spoke to me and explained why I wasn’t in the team for the St Johnstone game. It was obviously the right choice because we won 4-1! You’ve just got to get behind the boys and keep training hard.
“I was surprised to get put in against Aberdeen, but I was glad to get in and play my part. It can be frustrating, but it’s no bad thing to have a bit of time out the team because it makes you that bit hungrier. That little period when I was out the team, Jack told me he liked that I was still training well and showing a hunger to play. Even at St Mirren when boys weren’t playing, he was really good with them, always explaining why they weren’t playing. He’s got very good man-management skills – he always talks to you.”
Mallan has had something of a rollercoaster time at Hibs and is hopeful that the return of Ross coincides with a sustained upturn for himself.
“When I first came in under Lenny it was a breath of fresh air for me because of the way the previous year had gone,” he said. “I got off to a bit of a flier, then I had a lull around the Christmas period and then I started to pick up again when Hecky first came in.
“At the start of this season I wasn’t doing too great though – I knew that myself. I’m not sure what was going on with my game. I should have been doing a lot better but I feel like that little period of time out the team has helped make me hungrier.”