Murray Johnson speaks on Hibs' UEFA Youth League involvement, Airdrie loan, and working with David Marshall
There are no clichés with Murray Johnson, which you might put down to his tender years and lack of exposure to the media. Just 17, the Hibs goalkeeper gives the air of a much more experienced player.
Speaking from the Easter Road side’s base in northern Norway he runs through his loan spell at Airdrie, working alongside David Marshall – ‘a very humble man’ – and facing Molde in Hibs’ first involvement in the UEFA Youth League.
"Different,” he says, when asked what he expects of the trip overall.
“Different atmosphere, different country, different climate, different facilities – everything.
"I think we can all handle ourselves well and we are all capable enough. I’ve had a little bit of experience with the international team and we have Darren McGregor [development team coach] here and he’s played for Hibs in Europe so has given us all advice on what that was like for him.
"We know it’s different but ultimately the game is 11 v 11 on the pitch. We know all our preparation comes down to that and no matter who we are playing, or what the circumstances are, we know we can go out on the pitch and give our all because we have prepared the best way possible.”
Youth League a ‘reward for title win’
Johnson was a near ever-present for Hibs as they cantered to the Under-18 league title last year and kept several clean sheets, but insists the group as a whole deserves credit.
"I think for everyone it’s a reward for winning the league. It’s a massive opportunity playing in the Champions League so we need to showcase what we’ve got,” he continues.
“We have a very good squad in my opinion and it’s about going out, enjoying it, and remembering all the hard work last season and the sacrifices we made to win the league.
"That’s what got us here and gives us the opportunity to play these types of games so we need to remember that this is the reward.”
There are a handful of players in the squad with international experience – Johnson included – but for many of the group this will be their first taste of European football.
“There will be pressure but the main thing is to remember all the hard work we put in last year to get to this point,” Johnson adds.
"We’ll be nervous, but we have to go out and enjoy it. It’s the reward for winning the league so there’s no point coming here and wasting that opportunity by being too nervous or uptight about the game."
Marshall the Mentor
Having an experienced No.1 in Marshall to train alongside at East Mains has also been immeasurably helpful for Johnson and his fellow ‘keepers.
"Marsh has been great for me. I think when he first came in everybody knew he would be a very good mentor for us young lads but with me being a goalkeeper it’s especially true. I lean on him all the time for advice and his experience speaks for itself; he’s played a number of times in Europe.
“I’ve asked him loads of questions and he has tons of experience, knows what it is like and what to expect. That's not just the case for European games, I ask him a lot about everything because he’s been in the game a long time and there’s a reason why he has been at the top for so long.
“It’s been a real privilege to work alongside him every day. Any advice I can get from him is very valuable, he tells me wee things in training and even talking to him in the canteen is great.
"I want to get to the levels he did and be involved in the situations he was involved in so the more advice I can take from him the better.”
Marshall, memorably, played a blinder for Celtic against Spanish giants Barcelona in a European game nearly 20 years ago…
"I think he got man of the match that day but he doesn't really want to hear about it,” Johnson laughs.
"He’s a very humble individual which, to me, seems crazy. I doubt I would be as humble but he does speak very well about his experiences if you ask him."
Airdrie loan spell
Johnson goes into this game off the back of a stunning loan spell with Airdrieonians in which he won player of the month and kept three clean sheets in five games, conceding just twice.
"Airdrie was brilliant for me. It came out of the blue a little bit but it was a big step for me,” Johnson says.
"Playing in League One as a 17-year-old goalkeeper was a little bit daunting, especially when I first started, but I eased into it and it went really well.
“Everybody at Airdrie was excellent with me and are due a lot of credit for that and for taking me there in the first place and putting a lot of faith in me. It has helped me massively.
"Playing at stadiums like East End Park or the Excelsior against Falkirk in front of big crowds was a learning process; learning how to manage that expectation, manage the game, and manage the crowd a little bit as well, which was something I hadn't had to do before.
“I’ll be leaning on that against Molde and in the games to follow because it was a huge step for me.
“I think I managed to deal with it pretty well and I can take a lot of confidence from my performances.”
It seems very straightforward: enjoy it, play well, get something to take back to Easter Road for the second leg.
"We have got to go out and showcase our talent. We won the league last year because we are a good team,” Johnson states.
"If we go out on that pitch and show our best, we can compete against anybody in this tournament, and I think we can do really well.”