Even allowing for the fact that Darren McGregor is a naturally enthusiastic character anyway, it’s safe to say the recently-signed defender has been highly impressed with the calibre of squad he has joined at Easter Road.
Wednesday’s League Cup victory over Premiership leaders Aberdeen has merely reaffirmed the former Cowdenbeath, St Mirren and Rangers player’s belief that Hibs are a top-flight team playing in the second tier.
“I’ve played in a few teams now and I think the quality we’ve got here is great,” he said. “There’s a really good blend of young and older players. We’ve got a lot of unsung heroes here. Wee Dylan McGeouch, for example. He does a power of work that you maybe wouldn’t notice from up in the stands but you certainly notice it when you play with him. He’s filling in for Dave Gray on the right, then he’s in the middle, then he’s up supporting. It’s great to have players like that in your team.
“We’ve got good legs in midfield and we’re solid at the back which are two of the main attributes a team needs. Liam Fontaine and Paul Hanlon have proven themselves to be right good defenders who take no chances. Then you’ve got wee Jason [Cummings] up front who I think will be a right good player when he gets into his mid-20s. I remember playing against him last season [for Rangers] and he was a thorn in the side. He’s awkward to play against. As a defender you’d never expect a striker to take that ball [against Aberdeen] down on his chest, swivel and then shoot, but Jason’s got that in his locker. If he keeps on doing that, he’ll move on to bigger things, but at the moment I can see him continuing to do a right good job for Hibs. From back to front I definitely think we’ve got more than enough quality to hold our own at Premiership level.”
McGregor feels the departure of last season’s talisman, Scott Allan, to Celtic has allowed others at Hibs to come to prominence. “When I played against Hibs last season Scott Allan was a standout, but when you lose a player like that it can let others come to the fore,” he said. “We’re lucky to have Dylan McGeouch, Liam Henderson and John McGinn, as well as Fraser Fyvie, who’s out injured. There’s a multitude of guys who are stepping up to the plate here. When a player goes, it can allow others breathing space to flourish and I think you’ll see that here come the end of the season.”
McGregor has had to be patient since joining Hibs as their established back four of David Gray, Paul Hanlon, Liam Fontaine and Lewis Stevenson has developed a strong and effective bond over the past year and a bit. This is evidenced by the fact the Easter Road side have now kept 17 clean sheets in their last 31 matches, including seven in their last nine. McGregor only got in against Aberdeen because head coach Alan Stubbs opted to switch to a 3-5-2 formation.
“It was a brave decision by the gaffer to go 3-5-2 because the team had been keeping clean sheets with four at the back,” said McGregor. “To change it up in a big game says a lot about his character and the faith he has in us as players. The boys at the back have done excellent. I was well aware it was going to be hard to get in the team because right along the back four they’ve been good defensively and in terms of the full-backs going forward. I’ve had to bide my time but the gaffer wanted to stick me in to a 3-5-2 against Aberdeen, which I’ve played in before. I thought we did well and we all stuck to our jobs.”
McGregor will hope Hibs can maintain a run of five consecutive victories without conceding a goal when they welcome his former side St Mirren to Easter Road today. The Paisley club gave the 30-year-old his first chance at full-time football when former manager Danny Lennon brought him with him from Cowdenbeath in 2010. McGregor, who left in summer 2014 to join Rangers, is grateful to the Buddies for keeping faith with him even though he sustained two serious injuries in his four years there.
“I had a right good time there,” he said. “When I first went to St Mirren there was a lot of negativity about me because I was a Second Division player but they had faith in me and gave me a two-year contract. I got an injury in my second year and they were good enough to give me an extra two years, which was really good. I repaid them in the end but I’ve got a lot of good things to say about the club because they gave me an opportunity to showcase myself.
“Anybody will tell you when you get an injury you need a strong support network around you – that’s your friends and your family and also your club, and St Mirren really looked after me. They’re a great wee club with good facilities so it will be good to play against them because I’ve never come across them since I left.”