Exclusive - derby veteran Hanlon rallies Hibs troops for Tynecastle test
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Fighting for his place in the team, fighting for the jersey, fighting for three points that carry no extra tangible value – but mean everything to supporters raised on a rivalry that divides Edinburgh.
Paul Hanlon knows what this week is all about. With over 400 first-team games under his belt, not to mention a personal derby history that dates back to a winning debut at Tynecastle in May of 2009, the Hibs skipper can consider himself the squad’s resident expert on this fixture.
Hanlon, whose injury-time equaliser in the 2016 Scottish Cup quarter-final in Gorgie will always be celebrated as a highlight in the season when the Great Curse was lifted, understands his role at East Mains over the coming days.
“Obviously there are a few lads here who have never experienced an Edinburgh derby before,” said the club captain, given a first start under new manager Nick Montgomery in the weekend stalemate with Dundee.
“First and foremost, they need to be made aware of how big the occasion is, how big it is for the fans.
“Fortunately, we’ve got quite a few players here who know what that’s all about, so we can pass on that experience.
“I think we’ll probably try to curtail excitement at the start of the week, try to really focus on our game plan.
“We know the manager will have a detailed plan in place for us, that we’ll have been working on it from the first session back.
“So we need to be ready for that, stay focused on that, then go and try to take three points from Hearts.”
Hanlon has been more or less a fixture in this, erm, fixture since playing the full 90 in that 1-0 win on enemy territory back in ’09. In a visiting team that also included the likes of Ian Murray, Derek Riordan, Steven Fletcher and, of course, fellow long-serving one-club man Lewis Stevenson.
“I remember my first few derbies being a bit of a shock,” he admitted. “Everyone tells you that it’s so hectic, that the opening part of the game will kind of pass you by.
“It’s always a bit frantic, the fans are on top of you. It can be a bit of an experience.
“Fortunately I’ve got more than enough experience of it now. So it’s about me passing that experience onto the lads.
“I enjoy the derbies. But I enjoy every match day, to be honest. I still get excited by trying to fight for the team, fight for three points.
“Derbies are enhanced by the rivalry, obviously, and the lads will feel that building as the week goes by. You need to embrace it and enjoy it.
“And, if you win this one, it goes a long way with the fans. These are the games supporters remember.
“So the boys who score winners, things like that, fans always remember them.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t matter who scores, who has a great game individually. It’s about us going there and winning.”
Overlooked in favour of Rocky Bushiri for Montgomery’s first three games as head coach, Hanlon had been used as a late sub in games before getting the nod to start in Saturday’s goalless draw.
If he’s perturbed by the prospect of competition for a place in the starting XI, the 33-year-old doesn’t show it. As he points out, this is hardly the first time he’s had to prove his worth to a new gaffer.
“Aye, I’ve had to wait,” he said, adding: “Obviously the manager went with Rocky for the first three games, so I’ve had to be patient.
“The way I look at it, I’ve had to fight for my position my whole career. You are always fighting, always trying to get in the team or stay in the team.
“In this situation, I’ve just had to be patient because he picked Rocky ahead of me. I came on in a few games and thought I did all right.
“Then I kind of took my chance against Dundee. Obviously, I’m happy that we got a clean sheet, as a defender. I probably could have got on the scoresheet a couple of times, as well.
“It’s a squad effort, so it’s not about me. It’s about the whole squad trying to get where we want to be.”
Everyone at Hibs has spoken about the changes implemented by Montgomery, most notably in overhauling the entire game plan from the very first training session. And expecting players to get on board.
Offering some insight into the mentality switch that has been key to hitting the ground running, Hanlon said: “We stick to the plan. We’ve got faith in what we’re doing.
“As players, we’ve all bought into the new kind of style, the new way we’re going to play.
“It probably helps that we’ve got some results, so far. Obviously, we didn’t quite get the result against Dundee but, even in that game, the performance was good.
“The manager has been quite good on that, on trusting in the performances and believing we’ll get what we deserve.
“Even on a disappointing day, we’re sticking to the process because we know it will pay off.”