Paul Hanlon is eyeing a prolonged run of games in the second half of the season after an injury-disrupted ending to 2018.
The influential Hibs defender managed only four appearances in the closing three months of the year after suffering calcification in his thigh muscle following an innocuous collision with Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis during the Betfred Cup quarter-final between the teams at Easter Road in September.
Hanlon initially returned to the side for the 2-2 draw against Dundee at the end of November and the subsequent 3-0 defeat at Kilmarnock in early December but it proved to be a false start for the 28-year-old, who clearly wasn’t fully fit. After another few weeks in the gym, he returned to the side for the year-ending fixtures against Rangers and Hearts but played those matches without any notable training under his belt. Having had the winter break, including a week’s intensive training in Dubai, Hanlon is optimistic that he is now over the effects of his unusual injury and is equipped to become a regular in the heart of Hibs’ defence once more.
“I’m feeling good now and it feels like everything’s going in the right direction,” Hanlon said ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at home to Elgin City.
“I played the last two games before the break but I had only trained about two days on top of that. I was one of the boys who were probably in desperate need of a good bit of training so it was good to get that in the bag over in Dubai. I still need to manage the problem a bit by doing some extra gym work and things like that but I’m feeling good now. It’s just been a long frustrating injury.
“It came from nothing and then it escalated and got a bit worse than what I was expecting to be the case. It was just a nothing collision with the goalie. I was sliding in trying to score a goal and his knee caught my thigh. These things happen all the time and I thought it was just a dead leg but that was the start of me being injured for the best part of three months. Calcification isn’t too common in football so there were a few grey areas in how to treat it and how it should feel. It was a strange injury in terms of not knowing when I’d be ready to play again. It’s caused me a bit of bother but hopefully that’s it all behind me now and I can push on.”
Reflecting on his failed comeback bid in late November, Hanlon said: “I was probably just a bit too eager. I probably shouldn’t have come back so quickly. I’m too experienced now to be doing things like that. I should have just taken my time to get it right.
“It didn’t feel great going into those games but I thought I’d feel stronger by training and playing. That wasn’t the case though – it probably made it a bit worse and I had to come out again for a few more weeks. It took a solid two or three weeks of gym work and conditioning to get it to where it needed to be.
“For the Rangers and Hearts games I didn’t have much chance to train for them so it wasn’t ideal in terms of being match fit but it was great that the manager wanted to put me in for those games even though I hadn’t had a lot of training.
“I’ve just got to get myself right physically now and I feel like I’m in a good place after the week in Dubai. I feel like I’m ready for a run of games. After the Elgin game we’re right back into the league games so hopefully I can come through these games and push on.”
Hibs finished 2018 on a downer after winning just two of their last 13 matches during a period when manager Neil Lennon had to contend with a spate of injuries. Hanlon is hopeful that the break will have allowed the majority of the squad to re-energise for the second half of the season.
“I think the break will have done us good,” said the defender. “Quite a few members of the squad probably needed a bit more training and we managed to get that in Dubai. It was mostly physical stuff over there and then we’ve done a bit of tactical stuff this week. It’s always good to get away as a group.
“Quite a lot of the young boys came as well so it would have been a good experience for them to be around the first-team environment. The facilities were great. The club did amazingly to get us there. It was a good place to go and train and work hard. We’re raring to go now for the second half of the season.”