Dylan McGeouch reckons Hibs are about to feel the benefit of having a batch of vibrant young midfielders all desperate to show what they can do this season.
During his spell on loan from Celtic last term, the 22-year-old was part of a highly-regarded engine room that also included Fraser Fyvie, Scott Allan, and the experienced pair of Scott Robertson and Liam Craig.
Over the summer, Allan, Robertson and Craig have all moved on and effectively been replaced by on-loan Celtic teenager Liam Henderson, Scotland Under-21 internationalist John McGinn and 29-year-old holding midfielder Marvin Bartley. McGeouch’s return on a three-year contract last week means that Hibs have four midfielders aged 22 or under who are likely to start regularly this season, while Sam Stanton, 21, and Scott Martin, 18, are also waiting in the wings.
“The squad is probably even younger than last year,” McGeouch told the Evening News. “There are quite a few new faces who are all here looking to do well. Hopefully we can all glue together and have another good season. Last year we had a really strong midfield and this year it is strong again. There are a lot of young guys in our midfield looking to kick on in their careers. Once we all settle in and get a few games together I think we will really get going.
“There is a lot of competition. It would be great if the likes of myself Liam, John and Fraser were to kick on and get the type of headlines Scott [Allan] got last year.”
Being part of a midfield which regularly dominated games last season helped convince McGeouch that returning to Hibs was the best move for his career. Celtic had taken up the option of extending his contract by a year earlier this summer, but it soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to feature prominently in Ronny Deila’s plans.
“When my contract was extended at Celtic I just wanted to go in for pre-season and train and see how it worked out,” he explained. “I thought I did well last season at Hibs so I hadn’t given up hope of getting a chance at Celtic. You never know how things might work out and I always said that I would never give up at Celtic. There was always a chance that I might impress the manager and get a wee opportunity, but once I got into pre-season, I wasn’t really getting a chance so I decided I needed to get out and get games.
“It was pretty much a mutual decision between me and Celtic. The manager knew I would only be a squad player so we both thought it was best for me to go out and get regular games. He was honest with me, so fair play to him because he could easily have kept me and not played me all season.
“Everybody knows I’m a massive Celtic fan so I’ll always have a love for the club. I left on good terms and I don’t have any regrets. I gave it my best shot.
“Having been at Hibs last year, I knew it was an option to come back. I spoke with my agent and we weighed up a few different options and decided that this one was the best for me and my career. I liked playing under the manager last year and I remembered the group of boys we had, the style of play and the reception I got from the fans when I signed. It just felt right to come back here. Hopefully I can do well again.”
McGeouch refutes the suggestion that he was a makeweight in the deal that took Allan to Celtic a week previously. “I had read that I was part of a swap for Scott but that is definitely not the case,” he said. “After he signed I could easily have stayed at Celtic if I wanted so I was nothing to do with Scott’s move.”
McGeouch had no qualms about swapping the country’s leading club for one in the Championship. “Last season was my first season of playing competitive first-team football week in, week out, and I was very happy with the way it went. I thought the team did very well and we were just a bit unlucky at the end not to go through to the play-off final. It was great though and I think the fans realised that the style of play was good to watch.
“People think because you’re in the Championship no-one pays any attention. But it’s a good standard of football and there’s a lot of big games, as you saw with the Rangers game on Sunday. The main goal for all of us is to do well with Hibs and get them back into the top league. As Scott has shown, this is a good platform to play your football at.”
McGeouch’s first appearance as a permanent Hibs player came as a substitute against Rangers on Sunday, when he was pitched in at right-back. He admitted it was a gruelling exercise given that he hadn’t played at all since the end of last season, although a man-of-the-match performance in Wednesday’s League Cup win over Stanraer left him in good fettle ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Raith Rovers at Easter Road. “My fitness is not too bad,” he said. “I’ve kept myself ticking over but I’m looking to top it up with more game time. I only had a mini pre-season at Celtic because of my injury so hopefully I can get some more sharpness.”
Like last year, when he arrived on loan in September, McGeouch has joined a Hibs side playing catch-up in the title race. The Easter Road side trail red-hot favourites Rangers by six points after just three games of the Championship season. The midfielder knows victory at home to Raith Rovers tomorrow is imperative in order to give his side a platform to build on when they return to action against Alloa in a fortnight’s time.
“There’s definitely still time to claw Rangers back,” he said. We’ve got to believe we can do it because last year we didn’t start off well but then we went on a run and finished ahead of Rangers. Rangers have started well but we just need to worry about ourselves and keep getting three points. We’ve got a free week for the international weekend, so we need to get three points against Raith to make sure we break on a positive note.”