Jamie Maclaren looks back on Hibs career, derby winner and opens up on Neil Lennon relationship
The last time Hibs defeated Hearts at Easter Road, Jamie Maclaren was riding the crest of an early-2018 wave under Neil Lennon.
The Australian striker had snubbed the Tynecastle side to move to Leith on loan from German second-tier side Darmstadt in January 2018 and was in the process of establishing himself as a key member in one of the most accomplished Hibs teams of the modern era.
After opening his account with a penalty winner away to Rangers in his first start, the Socceroos hitman marked his first Edinburgh derby, 18 months ago, by scoring the second goal in a comprehensive 2-0 win over Hearts after Scott Allan had broken the deadlock. Maclaren scored further goals in wins over Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock and Celtic, and also bagged a hat-trick at home to Rangers on the closing day of a memorable season in which Hibs played some scintillating football, qualified for Europe and enjoyed their highest-ever points total in the top flight.
Maclaren was loving it, and was delighted to come back for more after the summer break. Although the second phase of his year at Hibs didn’t go to plan, the 26-year-old still cherishes his time with the club.
“My time at Hibs was basically a year of two halves,” he told the Evening News. “The first bit was unbelievable, just what I needed to get to the World Cup. Neil used his experience to bring in myself, Flo (Kamberi) and Scotty in that window and allied with the boys that were already there, we had a really good team. It was a six-month period where I really felt at home, probably the most enjoyable period of my career. The team was unbelievable. We only lost one game between the end of January and the end of the season. It’s hypothetical obviously but if that team was there from the start of the season, who knows what we might have been able to achieve.
“I pretty much became a hero right away because my first goal for the club was a penalty in a win at Ibrox. I was desperate to take it and John McGinn had no problem handing me the ball. I knew I would score it. That was one of my favourite moments in a Hibs jersey because of it being my first goal, and it being at Ibrox and then being able to celebrate with about 900 Hibs fans. I’ve got videos of it on my phone and any time I watch them I get goosebumps. I have fantastic memories every time I think about wearing that green jersey.
“I’ve got fond memories of that derby as well. I hit the crossbar about ten minutes before I scored. It was an unbelievable night. Scotty scored first and then I put the icing on the cake for a great evening and a great weekend for all the Hibs fans. I was fortunate to score in some big games in Scotland. I had some seriously good moments in Edinburgh.”
Maclaren went off to the World Cup with Australia in the summer and hoped the good times would continue to roll when he was eventually allowed by his parent club to return to Edinburgh for a season-long loan. A back problem, however, prevented him regenerating the momentum of his first phase at Hibs and he managed only six further starts and one goal before eventually departing in January of this year to return to Australia with hometown club Melbourne City. “I expected it to continue to be good when I went back to Hibs after the summer,” he said. “My hands were tied initially in terms of coming back straight away because I was away at the World Cup and Darmstadt were holding out for a bigger bid for me to leave permanently. That never materialised and I got really fed up after several weeks of sitting in Germany and said ‘look, I want to go back to Hibs, where I’m happy’. Eventually we agreed a deal. Taking a pay cut is never easy but I wanted to go somewhere I knew I’d be happy. Hibs fans were begging me to come back and it’s nice when you have that feeling. I felt at home in Edinburgh. My father’s from there and my partner loved it there. We even bought a house there which we still have. It’s our home away from home.
“When I arrived back for my pre-season, the guys were already playing Betfred Cup games so I was playing catch-up. I had a back injury which got really got bad, it went from minor to major. It wasn’t a nice conversation sitting down with Neil telling him I didn’t feel right. It was hard to look him in the eye and tell him I couldn’t play. You could see that he was disappointed and frustrated because he knew the ability I could bring to the team and how much Hibs had worked to bring me back. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t get my back to the level I knew I could. When I was sprinting in training, my hamstrings would get really inflamed so Hibs went to some serious lengths to get me fit. It’s hard when you’re coming off the bench to get match fitness, and then you break down a little bit more. I’d never really had many injuries before so it was a bit of a shock that I was finding myself out for two months. I remember watching the game where we beat Hamilton 6-0 and I was thinking if I was fit I’d be able to go out and score a hat-trick with Flo and get back up and running, but instead I was spending my days on a physio bed.”
Maclaren’s fitness issues took a toll on the player and his manager as Hibs struggled without several other key players in the first half of last season. Maclaren hinted that there was some friction between he and Lennon but is adamant they had a good working relationship despite suggestions to the contrary.
“The frustration from the gaffer was more aimed at the situation rather than me and I was upset that I couldn’t pay him back for all the faith he showed in me,” said Maclaren. “In terms of my relationship with Neil, if we walked past each other on the street we’d stop and have a cuddle and talk until the cows came home. I respect him so much. He did a lot for me and I’d like to think I did a lot for Neil when we finished on Hibs’ highest-ever points total. We created a bit of history together. There’s no bad blood between us at all.
“When he left, I was still contracted to Hibs. But the minute he left, I decided I should probably move on as well. Neil brought me in and I loved his training. The sessions he put on were fun for an attacker. He really helped me improve a lot. I was away at the Asian Cup when he was moving on and I didn’t know too much about the situation because the boys were a bit tight-lipped about it. The window was open. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means but I was wary that a new manager might come in and say he didn’t want to use me because I was only on loan. At that time, I had to think of my career and I made the decision to return home. Looking back on my time at Hibs, the first bit was great and the way it ended was a bit sad but overall I made some great memories and I met some great people. I’ll always support Hibs because the club gave me so much joy.”