Ryan Porteous gets his reward just days after displaying Hibs captaincy credentials
New Scotland defender spoke with confidence and maturity following his club’s victory in Perth
Ryan Porteous’s Scotland call-up counts as notable reward for a defender whose strength on the pitch and maturity off it have belied his relative youthfulness.
Still more than three months shy of his 21st birthday, the Dalkeith boy has already cast himself as one of the standout centre-backs in the country despite having spent the majority of the past year battling his way back from a serious knee problem.
Porteous’s maiden call to the senior international fold comes two months after he returned to Hibs’ first-team and a few days after he provided further evidence on and off the pitch that he is a character of substance destined to captain his club - and possibly even his country - in the years to come.
Having expertly repelled what little St Johnstone could throw at his team on Saturday, the homegrown defender then dealt with his post-match media duties in the mouth of the McDiarmid Park tunnel afterwards in a manner which made a mockery of the fact he is still only 20.
Ordinarily a player so young might be protected from the awkwardness of having to face the nosey inquisitors of the press at a time when the team’s manager had just been sacked following an abject start to the season, but Porteous is viewed as an impressive talker and the club had no qualms about allowing him to become one of the first players to speak publicly since Paul Heckingbottom’s exit.
Reflecting on a turbulent period for his team with a group of newspaper journalists, of whom most (but not all!) were at least double his age, the centre-back displayed admirable assurance and leadership in fielding the questions aimed at him.
In a little over five minutes of enlightening post-match conversation, Porteous expressed “guilt” that Hibs had finally won in their first game without Heckingbottom and conveyed genuine respect and warmth towards the departed manager. Most impressively, however, he chose to go in and bat on behalf of a group of new signings who had been widely pilloried by pundits and supporters alike since arriving at the club in the summer.
“It’s a lot of rubbish,” said Porteous, emphatically, when discussing the suggestion that Heckingbottom’s summer recruits weren’t up to the required standard. When short stock answers, such as “we win as a team, we lose as a team” or “we all have to take responsibility” would have sufficed, the young centre-back took it upon himself to explain what he saw on the training ground that made him believe the likes of Christian Doidge, Joe Newell and Josh Vela are good players.
While Doidge and Newell could draw some comfort from their involvement in the McDiarmid Park triumph after a chastening start to their respective Hibs careers, Vela, who would have been at a low ebb after being left out of the squad altogether following a poor display against Celtic the previous weekend, will surely have appreciated the fact one of the players most respected by Hibs supporters had chosen to publicly fight his corner in such an impassioned manner.
Further highlighting his influence in the dressing-room, Porteous explained how he has been chatting to the team’s under-fire new arrivals to help them keep the criticism in context, while also explaining, as a boyhood supporter of the club, what is expected from a Hibs player.
Sympathy for his embattled team-mates was mixed with an acknowledgement of the fact the team had been falling short and that the fans - as a result - were entitled to be critical. While many young players struggle to cope with the demands of those in the stands, Porteous already appears to have developed a mature outlook when it comes to the often intense dynamic between supporters and footballers.
Remarkably for one so young, the 20-year-old is one of only a handful of players at Hibs who currently commands enough respect among the club’s supporters to come out with such a bold defence of a group of players who have hitherto underwhelmed. It speaks volumes about Porteous that he felt compelled to do so.
Neil Lennon, who gave the defender his Hibs debut a little over two years ago, said last December: “He doesn’t play like a 19-year-old, he’s a man.”
On a similar theme, vice-captain and centre-back partner Paul Hanlon said of Porteous a year past October: “He’s a natural leader. He’s come into our dressing-room and isn’t afraid to say what he feels.”
As he prepares to enter an international environment where confidence and character are imperative, Hibs’ burgeoning young centre-back looks well equipped for the challenge at hand.