Hibs' Darren McGregor reveals astonishing injury comeback as he speaks on 'emotional' captaincy and playing for another club
It would be fair to say that there are a handful of players deserving of the ‘Mr Hibs’ title at Easter Road.
Lewis Stevenson is one, Paul Hanlon is another. But Darren McGregor may have something to say, too.
Fans need only listen to the born-and-bred Leither talk about the club and his circuitous route to the top to realise what it all means to him.
Captaining his boyhood heroes on Sunday in the final game of a disappointing season left the battle-hardened centre-back close to tears.
“I was emotional even thinking about it on Saturday night. David Gray said he was going to give me the captaincy, which I’ll be forever grateful for,” McGregor reveals.
“He didn’t have to do that but he said it wasn’t out of sentiment and that I deserved it."
What McGregor reveals next makes it all the more impressive that he was able to play at all.
“A lot of people didn’t know this as it was glossed over, but I snapped one of the main ligaments in my ankle in the Motherwell game [Scottish Cup quarter-final in mid-March].
‘I came on for a few minutes and Kaiyne Woolery’s shot snapped it. It should have been a ten to twelve-week rehab but I got back in six, just with this mindset of potentially getting one more game, as you never know what’s round the corner.
“Leading the kids out with the armband, I was almost on the verge of tears. I had to control myself as it was so overwhelming. It’s just been a privilege to play with this club. If it was my last game, I will treasure it along with a couple of other things that I managed to achieve here.”
McGregor still has 12 months remaining on his current deal but is unsure if he will see out his contract as a player. Just don’t ask him to play for anyone else.
"Listen, you could never rule anything out and I’m not going to sit here and rubber-stamp anything. But it would be very difficult.
"I said when I was younger that I’d play anywhere but because I’ve been here that long and I’ve battled against injuries and chronic knee conditions and what-not, it would be difficult for me to go and give someone else 100 per cent of myself knowing that it’s not Hibs and that fire in my belly is sort of dampened.”
Much depends on the new manager but the veteran would be keen to try coaching. Given his love for Hibs, there could well be some sort of role on the backroom staff for him next term, should a decision be made on his playing career.
McGregor has also backed David Gray to be Hibs manager one day and insists any incoming boss would be lucky to have him on their team.
"He’s definitely given me inspiration. He’s done a tremendous job. Before Jack Ross, I’m not sure he’d even taken a session so he’s come on leaps and bounds.
“I’ve got no doubt in my mind that in the future, he’ll definitely become a Hibs manager. He’s still learning. He’ll say that himself.
“Watching him do his stuff does give me the motivation to be the best I can in whatever I do.
“I’d 100 per cent like him to stay part of it. He gets the club and understands the players. I think for any manager coming in, David could be a definite asset in terms of his rapport with the guys, what he’s achieved here and his work ethic which is second to none.”
Despite the uncertainty over his own future, McGregor is adamant that next season has to be better for Hibs. Branding the 2021/22 campaign ‘disappointing’, he urged his team-mates to step things up next year.
“We have underachieved massively. For a club of this stature, it isn’t good enough and we all know that.
“It was good to end the season with a clean sheet, four goals and big Jimmy [James Scott] scoring a hat-trick – I was pleased for him.
“That’s the benchmark for the guys who will be here next season and that’s what the fans expect."
There have been contributory factors to Hibs’ struggles, of course.
“Losing Martin Boyle was big. If you look at goals and assists he is still right up there and he left us in January.
“We maybe didn’t replace him but we had lots of injuries. We had a starting XI out injured and that doesn’t help.
“Ultimately we haven’t been good enough and whether that’s down to complacency, a lack of confidence, you could go on and on.
“But we finished eighth and that’s not good enough. Other than the years in the Championship our average over the last 20 years is sixth.
“We have to demand more. We want to be playing in Europe and in cup finals. We have done the latter recently, but the league finish has let us down and we need to address that.”
The players are back in action in just over 50 days for the first match of the League Cup group stages. McGregor has warned his team-mates to rest and recover and be ready to go again.
“It’s a quick turnaround. This season has been poor and not up to scratch but we have to wipe the slate clean and go again,” McGregor continues.
“There are expectations here and we need to strive to achieve them.”
It is for characters and personalities such as McGregor that club chiefs should be pulling out all the stops to keep around in some capacity or another.
He simply ‘gets’ Hibs.