Marc McNulty speaks on his second Hibs spell, prospect of a return and his Reading future
Striker hasn’t shut door on Hibs return but insists focus is on Reading
Marc McNulty can’t hide the disappointment in his voice.
"It’s been a disaster watching Hibs back in action,” he admits. “I was sitting in the house in Edinburgh when they went back to training and I'd been off since the start of March, same as them.”
The Scotland internationalist was eight games into his second loan spell at the club when the coronavirus pandemic brought a premature end to the season, the striker’s final match the 3-1 Edinburgh derby defeat to Hearts at Easter Road.
At the same time Scottish teams returned to a socially-distanced version of pre-season training, clubs in England were completing the 2019/20 campaign behind closed doors.
Lockdown kept the 27-year-old in the Capital but even if he had returned to England, he would have been ineligible to turn out for Reading after featuring for Sunderland and Hibs on loan.
That he was so near and yet so far must have been difficult?
“I'm still in regular contact with quite a few of the players and Pottsy [John Potter, assistant manager] as well, but yeah, it was difficult to sit in the house knowing I wasn't doing anything and they were getting back into action,” he says.
“Now the games have started up again, it's great to see them start off well but it was so difficult watching the scores come in when I felt I should be playing as well.”
Perhaps especially difficult for the player, who was enjoying life under head coach Jack Ross and by his own admission, was still to reach the levels of his first loan spell under Ross’s predecessor Paul Heckingbottom.
"I'd worked with Jack at Sunderland so I knew what he was about, and there won't be many people who have a bad word to say about him or Pottsy.
"They're really great to work under and they create a good atmosphere so players enjoy coming into training every day.
“On the pitch, he gives you a freedom when you play - he doesn't hammer you with total football, or long-ball tactics – he gives the boys on the park a bit of freedom to do as they see fit, which I enjoyed personally.”
McNulty scored four times and registered two assists in all competitions in his curtailed second loan spell with Hibs, but insists fans didn’t see the best of him the second time around.
"When I came back the second time, I didn't set the heather alight straight away like I did during my previous spell with the club, so it was frustrating that I didn't really get to show what I'd shown the last time.
“I'm confident that I would have shown that by the end of the season. What's happened has happened, but it does feel a bit like unfinished business.”
Speaking of unfinished business, what does the future hold for the well-travelled forward?
"I came back down to Reading last Sunday. The first team went back on Thursday because they've only had a couple of weeks off, but I had to do a couple of sessions with the Under-23s on Monday and Tuesday, just to blow the cobwebs away a little bit before I start with the first team.”
McNulty is contracted to the Madejski Stadium outfit until the summer of 2022 but a little over 12 months ago, then Royals boss Jose Gomes indicated that the player wasn’t in his plans.
However, the Portuguese manager departed his role in October last year. His successor Mark Bowen is still in charge, which could be good news for McNulty.
“I spoke to the manager earlier this week, he used to be the Sporting Director so I knew him before and I got on well with him.
“We had a really good conversation. I've got a clean slate here, and just need to work hard over the next few weeks and see what's what at the end of it.
“I'm happy enough just to get the head down and work hard and see what comes of it.”
So no chance of him pitching up at Easter Road in January for a third loan spell, then?
"I loved both my spells at Hibs, I can't speak highly enough of the players, the staff, the way the club is run, the stadium, the fans.
“I loved it and I would always be open to a return one day.
“I don’t think in football you can ever close the door on anything.
“Right now though, I’m solely focused on getting my head down at Reading and trying to get in the team but if the day comes where the manager tells me I'm not part of his plans then that's football and I'll need to look elsewhere.
"In that scenario, if the opportunity came up to go back to Hibs then it’s definitely one I'd consider.”