Why signing David Gray and Darren McGregor to long-term contracts is good business for Hibs - on and off the field

Darren McGregor and David Gray have signed new deals with Hibs. Joel Sked looks at why it makes perfect sense.

By Joel Sked
Monday, 22nd April 2019, 3:42 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd April 2019, 3:49 pm
Darren McGregor and David Gray have penned new contract with Hibs. Picture: SNS
Darren McGregor and David Gray have penned new contract with Hibs. Picture: SNS

The announcement that Hibs have handed out four-year contracts to David Gray and Darren McGregor was one which raised a few eyebrows.

Come 2023, when the deals expire, the combined age of the duo will be 72, that's before you take into account the players' injury history. Gray missed most of last season and a large chunk of this, while McGregor has previously suffered two serious injuries and was kept out for a spell last campaign with a knee issue.

On the face it, the deals don't make a lot of 'business' sense. Scratch below the surface, however, and what is revealed is common sense and shrewd planning by those behind the scenes at Easter Road.

More than anything, fans care about what is happening on the pitch first and foremost. As both have shown at times this term, and in the 0-0 draw with Celtic in Leith on Sunday, they have plenty still to offer on the pitch.

McGregor had Odsonne Edouard in his pocket for large parts, anticipating play quicker, proving more determined and aggressive when it came to duels. It followed the eagerly anticipated encounter with Uche Ikpeazu in the derby two weeks previously. Again, McGregor with Paul Hanlon came out on top.

The 33-year-old is a ferocious defender who still possesses the physicality to match opponents.

There were calls for Gray to be awarded a new contract for a robust challenge on Scott Brown alone. The tackle was greeted with a noise usually reserved for a goal. On top of that he delivered a captain's performance; ex-boss Neil Lennon even switching James Forrest to the left to try and get the better of the right-back to no avail.

At the start of the campaign he was arguably Hibs' most important player and provided one of the moment's of the season as he netted off the bench against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League.

These are two players who, going forward, may only give you 30 or so games a season but in those 30 games you know they are going to be committed, demand a standard of their team-mates and be manager's Paul Heckingbottom's voices on the field.

Their presence is potentially crucial in games such as the one on Sunday or the one at Tynecastle, where team-mates will look to them for reassurance. Their experience of the big games, the unique nature of the Edinburgh derby is vital.

Listening to George Craig, the club's head of operations, the contracts handed out to the veteran duo are fluid. There will likely come a point when one or both will reach a point in their contract where they want or need to hang up the boots.

With that, they will transition to a position among the club's backroom staff, to a role which suits their qualities, their personalities. Whether that be in a coaching capacity or a more ambassadorial or administration post.

It is an idea which is commonplace at Bayern Munich where a role is lined up prior to the retirement of key individuals, so the club are not losing out on their experience or expertise.

The move brings continuity and places club legends in prominent positions rather than being forgotten about and rolled out every few months to do the half-time draw.

Both players identify with Hibs and fans identify with them. From Gray's header on 21 May 2016 to win the Scottish Cup to McGregor's upbringing in Leith and love for Hibs. The duo get the club and get what it means to play for Hibs.

They are likeable and personable. Forget about as players, they are people you want representing the club.

Their value cannot be overestimated, being around the club and a point of reference for team-mates and younger players. Think of the relationship between Ryan Porteous and McGregor. The latter is the perfect role model for the former.

McGregor knows what it takes to graft to get to the top and also rebound, not once but twice from injuries which could be deemed career-enders. And of course there is the game intelligence and wisdom which can be passed on.

Heckingbottom has challenged the pair to maintain their playing level for as long as they can. He will want to benefit from their qualities from years to come. But once that is over the club will benefit from having two legends, ingrained in Hibs, walking the halls of East Mains and Easter Road, continuing their love affair with Hibernian Football Club.