Jake Doyle-Hayes revels in first derby win as Hibs midfielder makes 'every week' claim
and live on Freeview channel 276
The soft Cavan accent and the polite greeting are completely at odds with the 72 minutes he spent on the Easter Road pitch, hurling into challenges, getting in the Hearts’ players faces and letting referee John Beaton know exactly what he thought about some of the whistler’s decision-making. But most importantly he started the move that led to Kevin Nisbet’s winner, collecting a loose ball and feeding CJ Egan-Riley, whose deep hanging cross was turned into a corner thanks to the efforts of Élie Youan. The Irish midfielder then took the set-piece, flighting the ball to the back post for Paul Hanlon to nod it down for the arriving Nisbet. You know the rest by now.
Morale was low amongst those of a Hibernian persuasion – four successive defeats including two against sides lower in the table will do that to a football fan. But a quick glance at the final few minutes of Saturday’s victory in the highlights posted by the Easter Road side sum up just what the victory meant.
At the sound of the final whistle Egan-Riley dashes onto the pitch, closely followed by Doyle-Hayes and Joe Newell. A few moments earlier, some of the Hibs bench including Egan-Riley and Newell, who had been substituted, entered the field of play when players from both sides came together after a robust Josh Campbell challenge on Orestis Kiomourtzoglou left the Hearts man needing treatment. It was the type of behaviour that so many teams have utilised against Hibs to good effect, but that Lee Johnson’s side maybe haven’t done enough of themselves.
The match also marked Doyle-Hayes’ first victory over Hearts since arriving at Hibs in the summer of 2020, the previous derby win having come some six months prior at Tynecastle on Boxing Day.
"It’s hard to describe, it’s still sinking in,” he says, shaking his head slightly in near disbelief. “Listening to the fans after singing ‘Sunshine on Leith’ was so special and it was so good to have my partner Aurelija and my baby son Arlo in the stands as well. Everyone at the club needed that, needed to hear it. The coaching staff set out a plan for us and I think we nailed it, got it right down to a tee. We got them on the back foot.
"We believed in ourselves. Easter Road is our home and it should always be a really tough place to come for any team, and I think we showed that against Hearts.”
Saturday was just the twelfth time the midfielder has featured in a cinch Premiership match, having had an injury-disrupted season, but he remains determined to help Hibs have a strong end to the campaign.
"It’s not been the easiest season for me personally, it’s been tough. Picking up the injury was hard enough and being in and out of the squad, it’s been hard to get up to the heights that I want to be at. But with games like the derby it’s hard not to be up for them,” he continues.
"But I woke up on Saturday morning and I was buzzing, and in the changing room before kick-off everyone was ready to go and we certainly showed that from the first whistle. We went to bed on the Friday hoping that we would wake up, play the game, win, and hear ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and we did, and everyone’s delighted with that. The dressing room after the final whistle was loud, it was bouncing, it was fantastic. The sort of thing you need to enjoy and soak up.”
Indeed, as Doyle-Hayes speaks we can quite clearly hear raucous celebrations continuing two or three floors beneath us and why not? There was so much riding on this game – top six, Europe, city bragging rights and for Hibs, bringing to an end that unwanted derby run that hadn’t seen them win since 2019.
The Irishman was tasked with playing a more advanced role as one of two central midfielders in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Jimmy Jeggo patrolling the area in front of the back four and Élie Youan and the newly-bearded Chris Cadden supporting lone striker Nisbet. The reaction on social media to the team selection was, it’s fair to say, not particularly positive. It looked defensive, cautious, overly ‘safe’, and it wasn’t immediately clear what strategy Lee Johnson had chosen. But as well as the pints flowing in Leith on Saturday night there may have been more than a few orders of humble pie to go with them. There have been occasions this season when Johnson perhaps hasn’t got the team selection quite right, but he got it spot-on for probably the biggest game of the season so far.
“I want to be further up the pitch and influencing the game higher up, trying to help out the strikers and the wide players and feeding them the ball as much as possible,” Doyle-Hayes explains. The former Aston Villa youngster has been working closely with the coaching staff after training, doing extra shifts in a bid to sharpen his game and bring more to the team. “It’s definitely something I can bring to my game and I’m trying to improve on it every day in training,” he adds.
There were celebrations on Saturday night, and probably on Sunday too. But the whole club is now focused on three points in Perth this coming weekend to secure that top-six spot, and then pushing for continental qualification.
"Europe has been the goal since the start of the season and it’s in our own hands,” Doyle-Hayes admits. “We needed to go out and perform well against Hearts; we did, and we need to go out there again against St Johnstone this weekend and put on the same performance.”