Kevin Dabrowski arrived at Easter Road hoping he’d impress enough to be offered a contract with Hibs.
But, within a week, the young Polish goalkeeper’s dream appeared to have been shattered, his left thumb badly damaged and requiring surgery by a hand specialist.
Weeks of meticulous rehabilitation followed but now the 18-year-old is determined to use the few weeks left of his loan deal from Lech Poznan to win an extended stay in Edinburgh.
And he’s made a promising start to doing so, keeping clean sheets in his first two outings with Hibs’ development squad, victories over St Johnstone and Dunfermline keeping the Easter Road kids’ title hopes very much alive.
Although he’s determined to put the pain of the past behind him, Dabrowski admitted his stay in the Capital had proved a testing time.
He recalled: “It was my first week training with Hibs. We were playing a small game and Jamie Gullan hit a very powerful shot from five metres. I saved it but immediately felt a huge pain in my left hand.”
Dabrowski struggled to remove his goalkeeping glove but overcame the pain to do so and the damage done became instantly obvious.
“My thumb had been bent right back on itself. There was a very deep cut as the webbing between it and my forefinger had been torn.
“I’d never seen anything like it before. It was the first time I’d had such an injury and I let out a bit of a scream.”
Dabrowski was immediately taken to hospital where it was quickly ascertained that, while one ligament had been stretched, the others and the nerves in the joint were okay. Eight stitches were inserted into the wound but he had to return the next day for an operation.
He said: “It was the best clinic for hand wounds in Scotland. I had to wait a few hours because they had an emergency to deal with.
“I remember being given an injection before being put to sleep and singing with the nurses to relax me. And when I woke up I had a big plaster covering my left arm. It was a terrible start for me. I’d been delighted to come to Hibs, a big club with tradition which I knew about from last season’s Scottish Cup. It had always been my dream to play in Great Britain because I love the kind of football played here, strong, dynamic and fast.
“Barry Douglas, who used to play for Dundee United, was at Lech Poznan and we became good friends. He’d give me a lift back and forward to training. He was a good guy.
“Back home in Poland, I’d also watch a lot of British football. I saw Hibs in the Scottish Cup, I watched the story unfolding.
“I remember Paul Hanlon’s last-minute goal against Hearts, and then the next game at Easter Road, Hibs winning against their biggest rivals and then the semi-final and Conrad Logan’s fairytale having come to the club just before it. The fans probably didn’t know him although obviously the management must have.
“And then there was the final itself, having David Gray, the captain, score the winning goal in the last minute just seemed to be destiny. It was just a beautiful story.”
It was against that background that 6ft 5in Dabrowski jumped at the chance to spend a few months on loan at Easter Road with the aim being to win a longer-term contract.
He said: “Apparently, Hibs’ scouts saw me on some videos and felt I’d played pretty well. They wanted to see me on trial so I came over in December for a week and then I came back in January. I thought it was time for me to try a different country, to improve and fulfil my skill, my potential.
“So I was very happy to come to Hibs – it was a good opportunity for me to show what I could do.
“The injury has meant it has not been easy for me but I am the type who will never give up. I kept thinking positively and that nothing was going to stop me. I just said ‘Kevin, everything is going to be fine, you will be back even stronger’.”
The journey back, though, was long and arduous and Dabrowski admitted he was indebted to those behind the scenes at Hibs’ East Mains training centre for the way in which they nursed him back to full health.
He said: “The physios and coaches worked hard with me every day. Paul Green, our strength and conditioning coach, had me running, on spin cycles and doing lots of exercises in the gym to work on my stamina.”
Goalkeepers, though, obviously need their hands and Dabrowski spent hours in the hydrotherapy pool at East Mains working on getting his left hand functioning again before, finally, he was able to handle a ball again.
He said: “Everything was done carefully. When I came back to full training it was just with our goalkeeping coach Alan Combe throwing the ball to me, gently at first and then, week-by-week, harder and harder until he said it was time for some light shooting.
“Now I am happy to finally be playing. The games have gone well, a 5-0 win against St Johnstone and then, the other day, a 3-0 victory over Dunfermline in which I had two one-on-ones and saved both.
“It’s not been easy but the rest of the boys feel like family.If something goes wrong, they are all there to help.
“I now I only have a short time left of my loan deal but I’m using what’s happened as motivation. I’ll be giving not 100 per cent but 200 per cent. I’m getting better by the day.”
Contrary to belief, Dabrowski revealed that “Kevin” is not a nickname used by his team-mates who can’t pronounce his first name Maciej but is, in fact, his middle name.
He explained: “My mother likes American names – my older brother is called Oscar. She wanted Kevin as my first name but my grandmother said I had to have a Polish name so I am Maciej Kevin Dabrowski.
“But I thought it would be far easier over here playing football for the boys to call me Kevin. So at least my mother will be happy, she’s got her way and I’m Kevin.”