Hibs youngster proud to captain his country again

Paul Hanlon
Paul Hanlon
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Paul HANLON has hardly had time to draw breath this season, already the only Hibs player to have played every minute of every one of the Easter Road outfit’s matches so far.

In all he’s clocked up ten SPL games, two more in the Scottish Communities League Cup, not to mention another couple as captain of Scotland’s Under-21 side.

But as most of his team-mates look forward to a well-earned break following a punishing schedule of five matches in just 15 days, the young defender won’t be putting his feet up.

Along with Hibs mates David Wotherspoon, Callum Booth and Leigh Griffiths, he was today busy preparing with the national Under-21 squad for crucial Euro 2013 qualifying matches against Luxembourg and Austria.

And although he admits he’d probably appreciate a breather, Hanlon insisted he’s delighted to have the chance to add to his haul of 14 Under-21 caps, ten more having been earned at Under-19 level.

The 21-year-old said: “We didn’t get off to an ideal start with that no-scoring draw at home to Bulgaria so we have two massive matches now, going to Luxembourg and then playing Austria at St Mirren Park on Monday night.

“Luxembourg are something of an unknown quantity although I am sure the coaches will have a few videos and will bring us up to speed on their strengths and weaknesses.

“We had Austria in our group last year, they were a decent side. But we’ll be looking to build on that point from the Bulgaria game.

“It’s great for Hibs to have four of our players in the squad, it again underlines the commitment to youth there is at Easter Road, while David Stephens will be away with Wales as well.

“I’ve played every game so far and while some may say I could do with a break these are big matches for Scotland and I want to be involved as much as I can. Being asked to captain the side is a great honour so I’m looking forward to it and getting the results we want.”

The Easter Road quartet have reported for international duty disappointed, according to Hanlon, to have narrowly lost to Rangers but also brimming with optimism for the remainder of the season having clocked up a five-match unbeaten run which also saw them clinch a place in the last eight of the League Cup.

Hanlon said: “You are always underdogs when you go to somewhere like Ibrox but we created a few chances which, on another day, might have got us a draw or even a win.”

Hibs’ resistance wasn’t broken until the 68th minute, Kyle Lafferty stealing in to meet Gregg Wylde’s cross to claim the only goal of the game just as the home fans were becoming more than a little anxious.

Their nerves hadn’t been helped by former Hibs star Steven Whittaker blasting a penalty kick over the bar on the stroke of half-time and a superb performance by Easter Road goalkeeper Graham Stack.

And Hibs were left wondering just what might have been with Hanlon himself powering a header just wide before Junior Agogo was sent through by fellow striker Garry O’Connor, only to see Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor pull off a tremendous save.

Hanlon said: “You could feel the tension among the Rangers fans on the pitch. You know they expect to win every week but also the longer you keep the back door shut the more likely they are to get on their players’ backs. I was a little surprised to see Whittaker miss because he’s been so reliable from the penalty spot for them and when you see that happen you do think it might just be your day.

“McGregor made a great save from Junior, he’s a top quality keeper who we’ve watched pull off saves like that on many occasions. Even so, I’m sure Junior would have been disappointed, although I’m equally certain he’ll be among the goals as the season goes on.”

While some may have been surprised at Hibs holding Rangers to such a narrow scoreline given the goals Colin Calderwood’s side had conceded in recent weeks, Hanlon insisted results over the course of September had given cause for optimism. He said: “We are disappointed with every goal we concede and we have been losing too many, but you have to take the positives from every game and I think there were plenty from Saturday.

“It wasn’t a cleansheet, a victory or a draw but we can take a great deal of confidence from our performance. Our unbeaten run has also gone but it’s now a case of looking to start building another one when we play Motherwell a week on Saturday.”