Exclusive: 'If I play well, I'm here to stay' - Hibs rising star reveals Monty pledge

Teenage defender has started two straight games for Hibs.Teenage defender has started two straight games for Hibs.
Teenage defender has started two straight games for Hibs.
Gaffer has told youngster to believe in himself - and reap the rewards

Baby steps aren’t enough. At some point, any kid hoping to make it as a professional footballer has to take one mighty leap of faith. And hope to stick the landing.

If it’s too early to say whether Kanayo Megwa has the composure needed to establish himself as a first-team regular, the 19-year-old is at least getting his chance. And, regardless of what happens in the transfer market this week, the one guarantee is that Nick Montgomery will allow the right back to compete for a starting place with Lewis Miller – once he returns from Asian Cup duty with the Socceroos – and 16-year-old Rory Whittaker.

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Montgomery has handed first team debuts to five academy players since replacing Lee Johnson back in September. And the straight-talking Yorkshireman is clear about the guys currently in possession of the jersey, revealing: ‘I’ve told the boys: ‘If you perform then it doesn’t matter who is coming back. You’ll stay in the team.’” Music to the ears of any youngster trying to make his mark.

Megwa, recalled from his loan spell at Airdrie and thrown straight into the first team with starts against Rangers and then Kilmarnock, revealed: “The manager has told me to believe in myself. He’s said he has confidence in me, which is always good to hear as a player. And he told me that I’m in the first team for a reason. I really want to build on that and see what I can achieve.

“The manager just wants me to keep doing what I’m doing. And, if my performances are good enough, I can stay at right back for the team. Whatever happens, I just have to keep playing my game. Whatever happens in the future, it happens.”

It has helped Megwa that Airdrie, under Rhys McCabe, play a possession-based style of football not a million miles away from Monty’s masterplan at Hibs. There hasn’t been much of an adjustment required. Even if, in his performances so far, there have been one or two signs that the teenager isn’t quite taking the same sort of chances – especially when there’s an opening to play a forward pass – that he would have in the Championship.

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“Yeah, there are always nerves,” said the London-born Nigerian defender. “But the manager keeps telling me to play how I normally play, how I would have done at Airdrie. If I do that, I’ll stay in the team and continue to improve as a player.

“It’s a big step, going from Airdrie to the Scottish Premiership, especially physically. Out there on the pitch, there seems to be a lot more physically demanding stuff to be done. And you really have to stay switched on at all times.

“But Airdrie helped me so much with my confidence, learning about the game. That was an important step for me. And, yeah, it helped that Airdrie played really good football – they don’t just knock it up the park.

“The fact that they want to play with the ball was good for me, because that was a part of my game I really wanted to work on for a while. It’s pretty similar to how Hibs play, too, so it’s worked out well.

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“A loan can be really good for you that way, giving you game time, getting experience. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, so I’m happy that it was a positive loan experience.”

Signed in 2021, Megwa – who had knocked around the fringes of some English clubs before moving north – hasn’t been short of mentors or trusted guides during his time in the Hibs development system. And, like any right back lucky enough to be sharing a training ground with Scottish Cup-winning captain David Gray, now an integral part of the first team coaching staff, he’s getting some valuable advice from the backroom.

“I’ve been at Hibs three years now, and there are so many people who have helped me along the way, I couldn’t name them all,” he said. “Not just coaches but players. Chris Cadden has been brilliant with me. Because he plays the same position as me, he has given me a lot of advice and tips. Lewis Stevenson, Joe Newell, they all give you a lot of time and advice. It’s been really comforting to have them around.

“And, of course, David Gray has been a really big factor. Especially for a right back! He’s always giving me feedback – positive and negative - after games. I feel like I’m in the right place to learn and progress as a player.”

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