There will be few at Easter Road looking forward to the new campaign more than Jordon Forster, the big defender eager to put the trials and tribulations of last season behind him.
An ever-present as new boss Alan Stubbs took control of the club, Forster then suffered a broken foot in a freak training ground accident and then, only hours away from beginning his comeback, the 21-year-old was rushed into hospital for an appendix operation.
His misery didn’t end there, an awkward landing in Hibs’ final Championship match against Falkirk resulting in an ankle injury which ruled him out of the play-off matches with Rangers.
“They say things come in threes,” reflected the Hibs player after completing the full 90 minutes in the penultimate pre-season friendly against Dunfermline, “so all I can hope is that’s it as far as bad luck is concerned.
“Unfortunately these things happen, just look at Danny Handling the other night. Unfortunately he’s picked up a pretty bad one and you always feel sorry when a player, particularly a team-mate, gets injured, but at the end of the day it’s part and parcel of the game. You learn to take the good with the bad so hopefully this season will be better for me than last season.
“It had actually started pretty well for me. I’d played every minute of the first dozen games or so, but then it became one thing after another.”
Forster didn’t start a game for six months after breaking his foot and then surgery to remove his appendix, the form of Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine making it difficult for him to break back into the side and he knows he’ll face the same fight again, particularly if head coach Stubbs opts for a back four rather than the three he played at East End Park.
But while admitting he’s happy to pick up tips from the pair, Forster is equally anxious to make up for lost time.
He said: “Paul and Fonts were doing brilliantly when I was fit again so it was always going to be tough for me to get back in. They are two really good players and have been very helpful to me – I’ve learned massively from them.
“But it’s dog eat dog. We’re all after each others’ positions and I’ll be doing all I can to get my place in the team.”
To that end, Forster revealed he’s been working throughout the summer to give himself the best possible chance of doing just that. He said: “When you get hit by hammer blow after hammer blow as I did last season it can be difficult mentally. The pain last a wee while, but it can be hard to remain positive going to work with the physios and the fitness team every day.
“There are days when you come in and feel down and they can be really difficult. But we’re lucky at East Mains in that we have a great bunch of boys in the changing room and a great team of physios and fitness staff so the camp is always upbeat.
“We help each other massively and that was great for me throughout the problems I had. But you have a job to do and it’s a case of working hard in training every day to get yourself fit and in the position of being able to challenge for a place in the team.
“So I’ve been working through the summer, doing everything I could to come back to pre-season in the best possible shape and hopefully that will be recognised and stand me in good stead.”
Each of Stubbs’ players departed for the close season armed with their own personal programme devised by Craig Flannigan, Hibs’ head of sports science and fitness, although Forster suspects his was possibly a little more taxing than some others might have received given his limited game time last season.
He said: “Craig has been a massive help, working with me every day and rebuilding the Jordon Forster of the start of last season. I had seven days away from it all with football the last thing on my mind and then got back to work. I felt it was important to just have that short period to relax and now I’m happy to have got my first full 90 minutes under my belt.”
Hibs complete pre-season by taking on Ayr United at Somerset Park tonight before facing Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup just as they did a year ago, with the roles reversed as new Ibrox boss Mark Warburton faces a race against time to rebuild his squad much as Stubbs had to do on his arrival in Edinburgh last summer.
The outcome of Saturday’s match at Easter Road will, of course, have no bearing on the Championship race which many believe will be between Hibs and Rangers, but nevertheless, Forster believes he and his team-mates can lay down a marker by clocking up an early win over their rivals.
He said: “It’s the first game rather than halfway through the season with both sides well settledm, but it’s against the side that’s probably going to be our biggest rivals for the league.
“But even so, this is a chance for us to signal our intent, to say ‘this is going to be our season’, and the one thing we have is a changing room full of boys who are confident we will be going up this season as champions.”