Conrad Logan is a beacon of contentment as he reflects on a year of unlikely career resuscitation.
The Irish goalkeeper began 2016 in the doldrums, without a club and not knowing where and when he would catch his next competitive ball as he made slow progress in his demoralising battle to fight back from a snapped Achilles. He wasn’t quite at breaking point, but a growing sense of self-doubt made a bright short-term future hard to envisage for Logan.
Yet here he is ending the year as a history-making Scottish Cup winner with Hibs and a regular starter in a Rochdale side chasing their highest-ever league finish and an unlikely promotion to England’s Championship for the first time in their history.
“It’s worked out well for me,” he told the Evening News in his first newspaper interview since leaving Easter Road seven months ago. “In January, I was thinking I’d hopefully be trying to find a club in July or August time, so it couldn’t have worked out much better in terms of winning the Scottish Cup at Hibs and then coming back to do well at Rochdale.”
Logan’s remarkable upturn in fortunes can effectively be traced back to the moment Mark Oxley lost a contact lens in a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Inverness in March. The Hibs goalkeeper, wrongly perceived to be wasting time as he searched for it on the pitch, picked up his second booking of the tournament, ruling him out of the semi-final against Dundee United and leaving Otso Virtanen as the only senior keeper available to head coach Alan Stubbs. Logan was short of fitness, sharpness and confidence when he first got the call from Hibs but, thinking he would only be asked to sit on the bench at Hampden, he agreed to come to Edinburgh on a short-term deal in the belief that it could speed up his rehabilitation ahead of his planned search for a new club in the summer. After impressing in training, however, he was thrust into the starting line-up against United and produced a sensational man-of-the-match display in a penalty shoot-out victory. It would be the first of eight matches he would play for Hibs. The last was the fabled game on the May 21 in which the Easter Road club beat Rangers at Hampden to win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years. That fairytale two months in the Capital acted as a catalyst for the revitalised 30-year-old to go on and re-establish himself at Rochdale, the club at which he had first incurred his horror injury in December 2014 while on loan from Leicester City.
“I definitely feel like I’m back on track now,” said Logan. “Bar the odd week or two out, I’d never had an injury in my life before, so to be hit with one that kept me out for 16 months, it was a struggle. I never thought I was finished but, when you’re out as long as I was, you do have doubts about when it’s going to happen for you. Before I went to Hibs, I was basically planning to get a bit of training under my belt towards the end of the season and then look to find a club and kick on in pre-season. I’d only done one or two goalkeeping sessions by that point, so when I went to Hibs I was taking a massive gamble.
“I thought I’d just be sitting on the bench for the semi-final and then get ten weeks of training under my belt. I knew that if I started playing too quickly and my injury recurred, I’d have to look to organise treatment myself. I could have played in the semi-final and had a nightmare and people would have written me off as someone who couldn’t play after a year and a half out and I might have struggled to get a club again after that. That’s football, though – you’ve just got to take chances.
“I was grateful just to get that chance at Hibs to get myself going again, and it couldn’t really have worked out much better for me. It was massive for my confidence and a great springboard for me. When you look at my time at Hibs in the cold light of day, it was unbelievable what happened in such a short space of time. The only downside was losing in the play-offs but that doesn’t take anything away from winning the Scottish Cup. It was mad, really. It probably makes it that bit more special that after such a short time, I left on such a high. The only way would have been down after that!”
Yet Logan would still have remained at Hibs if Stubbs hadn’t headed to Rotherham just over a week later. Neil Lennon, the incoming head coach, decided against retaining him. “I spoke to Alan on the Sunday of the cup parade and he said he wanted to keep me at the club and I was to go away and enjoy my holiday and we’d speak again. Then I came back, and the manager had changed, and there wasn’t much chat of going back after that. I knew it was only a short-term contract I’d signed at Hibs but, when you go in and have such a good time at a club and are part of a great success like we had, you do want to stay on.
“I would have stayed if Alan was still there, but he moved on and the new manager decided he wanted to do something different. That’s football. Some people in England didn’t know what I’d been up to in Scotland, so I just had to focus on getting a club and getting myself playing again. At one stage, there was a chance of me going to Rotherham with Alan but that never materialised and I ended up on trial at Rochdale.”
After initially having to bide his time at Spotland as long-time No.1 Josh Lillis commanded the gloves, Logan has been ever-present since mid-November, helping Keith Hill’s team to six wins and four clean sheets in his eight consecutive games between the sticks. Dale, who have never finished higher than eighth in England’s third tier, are currently fifth in League One. Logan, who has been offered the chance to extend his contract beyond January, is in an altogether better place now than he was at this lonely point last year. “In the summer, Rochdale already had two goalkeepers and weren’t looking to bring another one in but, because I’d been there before, and the gaffer knew me, he wanted to bring me in,” said Logan. “I knew when I came I’d have to wait a while to get my chance, but because I knew the gaffer, I knew it would only be a matter of time.
“It’s going really well. We’re punching above our weight in the league and I’m playing every week at the minute and happy with my form, We beat Scunthorpe, who are top of the league, last week and even then 3-2 flattered them. If we’d won 4-0, it would have been justified. We’re playing with real confidence at the moment. Staying in this league is the main target for us because we’ve got one of the lowest budgets. We finished eighth in the last season I was here and that was the club’s highest-ever finish so, if we can beat that, it would be great. We’ve got big clubs like Sheffield United and Bolton above us, who will be on Championship budgets, but there’s no reason we can’t push for the play-offs and, after that, you never know what could happen.”
Rochdale are two places above Southend United, for whom Oxley is now No.1 after his two years at Hibs came to a disappointing end when Logan took his place for the dramatic run-in. “We got on well with each other, so it was nice to catch up when we played Southend [in October],” said Logan. “It was hard for Mark that I took his place, but that’s football. I had it at Leicester where Kasper Schmeichel played for virtually four years without me getting much of a chance. Your relationship is still good with your fellow goalkeepers, though, because we all appreciate that only one keeper can play and the others have to push him. Me and Mark just pushed each other hard in training and left the decision of who was going to play up to the manager.”
Logan is likely to encounter more people from his Hibs stint in the coming weeks, with some members of the Livingston-based Conrad Logan Hibs Supporters Club signalling their intent to travel to one of his matches in the new year. “I’ve seen the supporters club – and I had a giggle at it,” he said. “I had a message saying a group of Hibs fans are going to come down to a Rochdale game in January so, if that happens, fair play to them. I get Hibs fans tweeting me all the time. If I tweet something, 90 per cent of the replies are from Hibs fans. They’re a great bunch and once you’ve been there and played for them, the respect they show you is immense. When I signed for Rochdale, I had loads of Hibs fans wishing me well. When I saved a penalty in my first game for Rochdale, I got in and had loads of tweets from Hibs fans congratulating me. The interest they’ve shown in me is mad.
“I didn’t get up to Edinburgh for the DVD launch but, please God, I definitely want to go back up for a Hibs game. It’s hard when you’re playing at another club but I’ve been invited to a Hibs Supporters Club dinner in London in January and people have tweeted me saying there’ll possibly be something happening to mark the year anniversary of the cup win. If there’s anything happening and I can make it, then I definitely will.”