Hibs' Jackson Irvine explains why he took a moment to himself - and his Australia goals
As his team-mates gathered round the home technical area, looking for some fluids and some words of wisdom from the coaching staff, the Australian isolated himself for several minutes, collecting his thoughts and emotions before joining the throng.
“I can be quite an emotional figure on the pitch,” said Irvine, “and having the ecstatic feeling of scoring your first goal and going two nil up in the 80th minute to then end the game feeling like you’ve thrown it away, I just needed a few seconds before I came over to the group to let some of that anger out and collect myself before we went again for half-an-hour.”
In his half-season spell at Hibs, the Leith side have served up a very limited number of disappointments, but his response to that temporary setback proved just how unrelenting the demands are and how much winning matters.
“Yeah,that’s the standards we set and when we fall short of those standards you expect there is going to be something said and it was.”
Absorbing the frustration, Jack Ross’ men responded, eventually ensuring their ongoing involvement in the cup via a composed penalty shoot-out. The fact that the Hibs manager had so many volunteers stepping up to see the job out – more than were needed in the end – proved that while they were frustrated not to wrap matters up earlier, there was plenty of character and belief in their ability to get there eventually.
That will be needed again and again as they play out a season that could deliver third place this afternoon, provided they can better Aberdeen’s result against Livingston when they play host to St Johnstone, and the Scottish Cup, if they can overcome Dundee United next weekend and then rise to the occasion in the final.
“We’re on a great run and have to keep going, have to keep pushing,” said Irvine, who has been happy to leave contract talks on the backburner to allow everyone to focus fully on the tasks in hand.
“St Johnstone have so much to play for and are on a good run themselves and I’m looking forward to what will be an exciting game. As a group it’s important we keep that good feeling going.
“The big games are coming quick and fast and that’s where you want to be at this stage of the season, still so much to play for.
The attitude, tempo at training and the feeling around the place is overwhelmingly positive and we’ve got big things to look forward to.”
For all the frustration caused by the loss of their two-goal advantage last weekend, the ability to eventually emerge victorious proved an additional fillip.
“Yeah, it was a huge mental boost,” said the 28-year-old midfielder. “Any time you have to overcome those kinds of adversities within a game, especially a cup game where you let it slip, the fact we managed to get through, that’s the most important thing.
The way the players stood up, especially in extra time I thought was absolutely outstanding.
“That holds us in good stead going into Saturday and the semi-final.”
A successful conclusion to the club season would also bolster Irvine and his Socceroos colleague Martin Boyle ahead of four vital World Cup qualifiers against Kuwait, Chinese Taipei, Nepal and Jordan next month.
“Yeah, we have four games over less than two weeks, so it will be a hectic summer for us but we can’t wait. We have been a long time away from the national team and we are about to go into what will probably be our most difficult qualifying campaign of the last 12-15 years and we are really looking forward to those challenges.
“We will face them head-on and the ultimate goal will be making sure we are on the plane to Qatar in 18 months time.”
And, on a run of form that has seen him net ten goals in the last 13 games to take his season’s haul to 15, with an impressive 11 assists added into the mix over the season, team-mate Boyle could be a major player for Australia as they chase that dream.
“He is on form. Maybe me coming here gave him a bit of a boost as well! I feel we have a very good understanding, me and Boyley, and he has shown his levels all season but particularly of late. He has been very, very difficult to play against.
“He has had to play a variety of positions, up front, off the right hand side and as a wing-back but he has so many attributes that he can bring to the game and that raw pace is a problem for anyone and look at just how clinical he has been; that final ball and when he is in front of goal, that ruthless edge, and he has taken that to a different level in recent times.”
That level of performance was evident in Hibs’ play for long spells last weekend, with everyone raising their game at just the right time of the season. And, whether he signs a contract extension or not, Irvine says the shared winning mentality and ambitions, allied to the fact it is a small squad emboldened by strong bonds, means he is determined to sign off for the season on a high.
“I like to think I have that attachment with every club I play for. I am a sentimental character and when I go in somewhere, I go all in, and that is the type of person I am, the type of player I am and you could see that emotion on my face when the final whistle went last Saturday. I want to win games and be a part of successful teams.”