Dan Carmichael admits he’s more than a touch embarrassed when he looks back on his first season at Hibs, one which began with high hopes as he finally got the move which had been talked about for years but ended with him becoming the forgotten man of Easter Road.
In all, the former Queen of the South midfielder featured in just nine of the 54 games Hibs played, starting just four of them, a run of three consecutive games last August being the best he could muster.
Throughout the season, Carmichael struggled with a persistent problem in his abdominal and groin areas, a number of alternative remedies attempted before he was finally forced to undergo an operation as he spent four months out of action and even afterwards his game time was limited, his last appearance coming three months before his team-mates brought the curtain down in style with that historic Scottish Cup triumph.
It was, Carmichael conceded, a miserable time, his frustration heightened by the fact he’d played 41 matches the season before at Palmerston Park and that he’d made 186 appearances for the Dumfries outfit over the course of the previous five years.
Now, though, the 26-year-old is determined to put all his troubles behind him, having enjoyed along with the rest of new boss Neil Lennon’s squad, an impressive pre-season programme culminating in Sunday’s crushing of English League One side Shrewsbury Town.
“It was embarrassing,” confessed Carmichael, “When you arrive at a new club you want to hit the ground running and show everyone what you can do but instead I was getting treatment rather than playing.
“It was a niggle that just wouldn’t go away, it felt as if it never would. I got the operation but it took longer than expected and the outcome was not what we wanted it to be.
“My name had been linked with Hibs for a while, since Pat Fenlon’s time as manager when Queen of the South won in the League Cup at Palmerston Park, so I was really looking forward to coming here and doing the best I could. Of course it was frustrating, but all you can do is try to get on with things.”
The arrival of Lennon following Alan Stubbs sudden departure has offered everyone at Easter Road a fresh start, none more so than Carmichael, who is desperate to take advantage of the situation now that he is, finally, fully fit again.
He said: “It’s just good to be back playing, to be involved again. I’ve hardly missed a training session so hopefully I can keep it going and get my chance this season.
“The new manager coming in brings a freshness, a clean slate for everyone. He probably came in not knowing a lot about the boys, so it’s a case of trying to impress him in training, to push your name into his thoughts and hopefully get your place in the team.
“We know we have a great bunch of boys here, players who should be playing at a higher level than the Championship and if we play as we have been in pre-season, and we all know the acid test begins when we go to Falkirk on Saturday, then I’m sure we’ll give ourselves a really good chance of winning promotion.”
A change at the top can often create a period of uncertainty as players and manager get to know each other, but under Lennon the transition appears to have been seamless, with the former Celtic player and boss admitting he’s been pleasantly surprised at the quality within the squad he inherited from Stubbs, although he is intent on adding a further new faces with Israeli goalkeeper Ofir Marciano set to add to the arrivals of Grant Holt and Ross Laidlaw. Another couple of signings are also anticipated.
Joking that he hopes there’s no more midfielders in the offing given the competition he already faces in that area, Carmichael said: “I think every manager is as demanding as the next, but they all have their own character. The gaffer has been there and done it. He has a stature, he’s a Champions League manager so obviously when he offers advice you take it.
“But Hibs are a big club and I think it would be a really good job for any manager.”
A measure of the demands Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker are placing on the players was evident at Greenhous Meadow, the pair continually barking orders to “pass it, move it, work it” as they insisted the tempo of the game be kept high despite headers from Liam Fontaine and Holt giving Hibs a two-goal cushion after only six minutes.
With David Gray, Marvin Bartley, Dylan McGeouch, Fraser Fyvie and Danny Handling all missing the final warm-up match through injury, the depth and versatility already within Lennon’s squad was evident as they went on to complete a 4-1 win with further goals from Jason Cummings and James Keatings, a display, claimed Carmichael, of the intense competition for places.
He said: “I think you saw what we have when, only a few days after taking Brondby all the way in the Europa League, we played Birmingham City with a totally different team. They’re an English Championship side, so our performance that day shows the quality we have, that there are players ready to step in and take their chance when it comes along.”
Although principally seen as a winger, Carmichael has been deployed in a more central role by Lennon, enjoying an impressive display against the Brummies. He admitted: “I came here as a winger but I enjoy playing ‘in the hole’ as I did in that game. You get more of the ball, can turn, get at defenders and make your passes.
“I’d say competition for places in the middle of the park is probably the greatest with so many players fighting for a shirt. The likes of Fraser, Dylan and Marvin were missing at the weekend, players most would probably look upon as certain starters, but we’ve also got the likes of young Scott Martin coming in looking to establish himself, while Callum Crane has been with the squad and Oli Shaw, at only 17, has also had a bit of the action.
It just goes to show how big a squad we have. Now it’s a case of taking it into the new season, doing the business when it matters.”