Kevin Dabrowski on his £72m penalty save and the horror injury story fuelling his bid to be Hibs number one this season
When one door closes, another opens and that is certainly the case over the goalkeeping situation at Hibs following the departure of Ofir Marciano this summer.
The Israel international was first choice at Easter Road for most of his five seasons at the club, but his decision to reject a new contract in favour of a move to Feyenoord has left the number one position up for grabs.
Matt Macey, who joined from Arsenal on a short-term deal in January before signing a two-year extension at the end of last season, would be considered most likely to claim the gloves, having deputised for Marciano in the Scottish Cup last term, helping his side to the final at Hampden, where despite the 1-0 defeat to St Johnstone, he produced an excellent performance which included saving a Glenn Middleton penalty as well as blocking the rebound from Chris Kane.
In total, the 6ft 7in goalkeeper made eight appearances for Hibs last season, keeping a clean sheet in 50 per cent of them, and showed enough to suggest that he can step into the sizeable void left by Marciano.
Only pre-season has shown that the Bath-born stopper has firm competition between the sticks in the shape of Kevin Dabrowski.
The 23-year-old has never played a competitive first team game for Hibs despite joining the club in 2017 but after three impressive loan spells in the lower leagues at Berwick, Cowdenbeath and most recently Dumbarton, the Polish stopper now appears to have forced himself into Jack Ross' thoughts ahead of the new campaign.
Both Dabrowksi and Macey have played equal minutes in pre-season thus far, getting 45 each against Dunfermline before Dabrowski was given the full 90 against Accrington Stanley, while Macey kept goal for the entire match against Stoke.
Ross reverted to 45 minutes each for the two 'keepers in the 2-1 win over Arsenal on Tuesday and both impressed with big saves, which in Dabrowski's case, included a stunning penalty stop from none other than Nicolas Pepe, the Gunners record signing at a whopping £72m.
It may only have been a friendly, but it was a moment to remember for the youngster, and one that will have undoubtedly caught the eye of his manager as well as the 2000 Hibs fans who were present.
“It felt really good. I was happy to get the opportunity, and I am really buzzing right now," Dabrowski said afterwards.
“It’s good to get some minutes and to show what I am capable of doing. The most important thing was they stayed out of the net, that’s my job.
“I tried to do all I could to stop them going in, so I am happy I managed to do that, and especially that they looked good, but that wasn’t the most important thing.
“I heard about [Pepe's] transfer fee, sure, but they are just numbers to me. As soon as you are on the pitch you give everything you have. And the difference is not as big as you see in those numbers."
While the natural progression for Dabrowski may be to become the established number two he has made it clear he is targeting the number one shirt this season.
Whether that opportunity comes now, or in the future, it appears he has both the character and confidence to handle the role, especially after bouncing back from a horror injury that threatened to end his Hibs career before it had barely started.
"What I have been through does make me more determined," he said. “I arrived in Scotland when I was just 18 years old and on my third day I suffered an extremely bad injury. I dislocated my thumb trying to save a shot from Hammer (Jamie Gullan), and that was before I had even signed for Hibs.
"I was supposed to sign for six months loan and I still had not signed at that point. So I wasn’t sure what would happen, whether Hibs would still want to sign me? Where I would do my rehab? Luckily they did, and I will always be grateful to this club for having that trust in me.
“They took me on and let me do my rehab here, which took three and a half months. So I only had two months left to prove myself and get this contract. It was a battle for survival for me. So I am really happy I did it. That gave me a lot of confidence. I said to myself after that anything is possible, nothing will ever break me."
Going into gruesome details of the injury, Dabrowski added: “I saved the ball but unfortunately the way I saved it, it followed through onto my thumb and ripped off the skin. The blood was purple, I needed several stitches.
“I tried to take my glove off but I couldn’t because my thumb was so dislocated. I had to turn it back, and that was one of the most painful things I have done in my life! But when I managed it I could get my glove off. It looked absolutely horrible. Thankfully it worked out ok and there was a happy ending.
“I was worried at the beginning that it could end my career. But I am very strong minded and I kept telling myself something like that wouldn’t beat me, that I was going to face it. I vowed I would do everything possible in my rehab to get back, and that gave me confidence to get ready and start saving shots again, that’s what I love to do.
“I am still saving Jamie’s shots in training now, just this time without any dislocations!”
Both Dabrowski and Macey have one last warm-up match against Raith Rovers tomorrow to convince Ross who deserves the nod for the Europa Conference League opener next Thursday and the season ahead. Whoever is picked, the club appears to be in safe hands.