Jackson Irvine: Before Hibs came in, I was training on my own in public parks with dogs stealing my ball
The plan was not for Jackson Irvine to play as many as 74 minutes on his Hibs debut, but when you haven’t been involved in a competitive football match for ten months, you savour every moment of your return.
The 27-year-old Australian signed a deal with Hibs until the end of the season last week and he was thrown in at the deep end as the Easter Road men took on Kilmarnock at home on Saturday. He acquitted himself well in central midfield, playing in the No.10 role as Hibs won 2-0 to move up to third in the Premiership.
Irvine has been sidelined since March 7 last year, back when fans were allowed in football stadia. His contract expired on Humberside last summer and as the financial squeeze as a result of Covid took hold, he found himself without a club, training on his own and waiting for the call from a new suitor.
"It’s difficult to put into words,” Irvine responded when asked about his unintentional hiatus from football. “It was incredibly frustrating. Now that I am signed and playing again it is something I can reflect on as probably the most challenging time I will probably ever face in my career, especially not being able to see family and friends during a time when you are out of the game. It just emphasises how much I am hoping to make up for lost time.
"It’s been a complicated time for the world and football’s no different. It was frustrating and difficult for me but in the grand scheme of things people are facing a lot worse situations than not being able to find a football club. I want to just focus on moving forward now and put those months behind me.”
How do you keep fit when the country is locked down? “A lot of individual training,” explained Irvine. “I had some great support from the national team on the strength and conditioning and sports science side of things.
"I was just training in parks in Hull. Labradors coming and taking your ball away when you’re trying to do a drill.
“Honestly, there were times when I was thinking to myself, ‘two years ago I was playing in a World Cup. Now I’m in a public park, on my own, doing running’.
“In December I went in to to train with Oldham, where Harry Kewell is the manager. So a massive thank you to the staff and players there. It just gave me that little bit of football to top myself up before I came in here."
Irvine did head home to Australia last summer, but he had no doubt he’d return to play in the UK.
“I had to do the two-week quarantine in a hotel. So I spent two weeks completely isolated in that hotel room, which was another challenge,” said Irvine.
"Then, about eight days into my quarantine, Australia started getting cases. So I basically flew back to Australia to spend four weeks in my mum’s house!
“To a certain extent, I was tempted to stay in Australia, but my partner was here and she works in the emergency services, so she’s been working throughout this whole time.
“There was never really a question about coming back.”