Hibs striker Jamie Gullan vows to hit the ground running on return
Star has learned lessons from last season's summer break
With a return to action still potentially months away, footballers could be forgiven for lacking a little motivation during the shutdown.
That is not the case for Jamie Gullan, however, the Hibs youngster desperate to pick up where he left off when things return to normal.
The 20-year-old was just beginning to make the breakthrough at Easter Road when the coronavirus pandemic forced the game into abeyance.
Having returned from a successful second loan spell at Raith Rovers at the end of January, he scored his first Hibs goal from the bench in the Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on February 28, before starting his first match away to Aberdeen a week later.
Only two days later he was named in the Scotland Under-21 squad for the European Championship qualifiers against Croatia and Greece at the end of March, his first international recognition at any level.
Gullan had the world at his feet but 24 hours before Hibs’ next match at home to St Johnstone, the news broke that Scottish football was being suspended indefinitely in the wake of the virus, with his international debut also scrapped.
While the health of the nation takes priority, he is understably frustrated by the timing of everything.
“I was looking forward to trying to keep my place in the team, and the games coming up,” Gullan told the Evening News.
“It came at a bad time for me personally, but I just need to stay confident and whenever pre-season comes around I just need to try to fight my way into the manager’s thoughts and get going at the start of next season.
“If I can keep my place in the team, even if it could be a few months after my first start, then that will be great.
“That’s the motivation you’ve got during this period to keep as fit as you can and come back flying for when that moment comes.
“You have to be ready so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Gullan has another motive for keeping on top of his fitness during the shutdown after fearing his Easter Road days were numbered last summer when he returned from the close season out of shape.
He was pulled out of first-team training by then manager Paul Heckingbottom before being sent on loan to Raith for a second time.
He intends to learn from that lesson.
“It was my own fault,” he explained. “I came back from pre-season not fit and not in a good condition.
“I was away on holiday and was doing things to keep me ticking over. I thought I was doing enough, but obviously I wasn’t. I was probably a couple of kg heavier than they wanted me for my position.
“That put me behind everyone else and I was playing catch-up right from the start.
“I thought it would be hard to try to break into the first team at that point.
“I just had to work double as hard on the fitness side, doing extra sessions in the afternoon, extra gym every day.
“It was tough but when I got back playing games I could feel that it did make a big difference, and it taught me not to let the fitness go. Just to keep on top of it no matter what. I’ll definitely not come back unfit again.
“Then Raith came along for a second time, and that got me back playing football every week, and back really fit. That helped me to get the confidence back and it’s lucky that it’s all worked out.”
Not that Gullan could slack off even if he wanted to with Hibs using GPS technology to keep track of their players’ work-outs.
“It is tricky because you don’t know when you’re going to be back, or what’s happening at the moment with the leagues,” he added.
“It’s hard to get your head around it, but Hibs have got us on a plan.
“We’re using the Strava app, so they know what we are doing, and they’re keeping tabs on us.
“You can’t really cheat - you have to upload your stuff to that so it’s good keeping fit that way.
“There’s lots of running and, to be fair, I’m doing quite a lot of gym at home.
“They give you quite a lot of circuits to do to keep pushing yourself, so there’s plenty of stuff to do. Lots of stretching and different work-outs.
“You’ve just got to take it on board and do it, because if you don’t, it will be another situation where you come back unfit again.
“I’m definitely not letting that happen again. I’m working really hard over this period.”
Gullan does have something to show for his season, with the vote to declare the lower leagues confirming Raith as League One champions, meaning the youngster will earn his first senior winners’ medal having played his part with nine goals in 18 appearances while on loan.
“I was buzzing when I got the news,” he revealed. “I’m still in the group chat and the boys were going mental.
“It was a great feeling – and obviously knowing I was a part of it as well, if only for three or four months - I was delighted with it. The boys and the club deserve it because we were excellent this season.”