Paul Hanlon has admitted there have been times when he’s considered leaving Easter Road.
But as the ink dries on a new four-year contract, the Hibs defender insisted no-one had been able to tempt him away from the club he has called home since the age of 16.
Now 28, Hanlon is considered to be enjoying his best season in the green and white, helping Neil Lennon’s newly promoted squad to make such an impact on their return to the Ladbrokes Premiership that they are very much in the fight for runners-up spot.
It is, he conceded, a stark contrast to some of the experiences he has endured, none bleaker than the day the Capital club were relegated and condemned to three years of Championship football and the lifelong Hibs fan was told that, along with the rest of his team-mates, he was free to go.
He revealed: “There have been occasions when I’ve spoken to other people when I was out of contract – like after we won the Scottish Cup – but there was nothing that made me want to leave here.
“When we got relegated, for some reason we all got told we were free to go. I spoke to a few people then, but that wasn’t the case in the end, I wasn’t free to go, so that was fine.
“For me to leave here, it would have to be something that I thought was special and nothing came up that was enough to make me want to leave.”
As he pointed out, Hanlon will be well into his 33rd year when his new deal expires, raising the realistic prospect that he may be one of that rare breed in today’s football to become a one-club player – and he would be delighted.
“I grew up a fan of the club and I have enjoyed every minute of playing for Hibs. I’m proud to wear the strip every week. I don’t know if I’ll have much left at the end of this contract but it’s just a case of trying to play well season after season and seeing where it takes you.
“I try not to look too far ahead but if it came to it and I played my whole career at Hibs, it’s something I’d be really proud of.”
Hanlon is also very much conscious of the transformation which has taken place at Easter Road, recalling his early days when training took place at whatever public park was available, while part of his duties included cleaning the boots of Jamie McCluskey.
And he is also aware of the achievement of having now played 340 games for Hibs, pointing out how few of his team-mates from those early days are still playing at a high level.
He said: “I came in from school at 16. Quite a lot of us at my age got signed from school, maybe eight or so, which is quite a high number to come in at one time. They were good days looking back at it now. There was no training ground at that time so I was into Easter Road every morning, doing all my jobs.
“I was cleaning boots, pumping up the balls, filling up the water bottles for the first team, all that sort of stuff. Then it was off to whatever public park they had available for us.
“I still look back on those days fondly. I was playing for Hibs so they were great times. I enjoyed those sort of jobs. I actually had Jamie McCluskey’s boots but they were only size six-and-a-half so it was the easiest shift ever!”
Hanlon was promoted to the first team before that side went on to win the league and cup double, something today’s youngsters hope to emulate when they face Aberdeen in the SFA Youth Cup final on Thursday night having already tied up the SPFL Development title.
He said: “My age group had Sean Welsh, David Wotherspoon and Callum Booth and there were a few boys who went on to have decent careers.”
Hanlon is, however, the only one still at Easter Road and he marvels at how the club’s fortunes have been transformed, particularly in the past few years.
He said: “When you look back at where the club is compared to then, we’ve got this amazing training facility and the stadium is finished with the new stand. It’s a great place to be, you need to enjoy it.”
Ending Hibs’ 114-year Scottish Cup hoodoo has, undoubtedly, been the catalyst for a revival on the pitch to mirror the reconstruction which has taken place off it with and Hanlon hopes there is more to come.
He said: “This is definitely up there with one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had just with the whole feel about the place and obviously with the performances as well.
“There is a feelgood factor around the whole club now, that’s part of the reason I have committed to another four years. It’s a great place to be. We have a great squad just now and hopefully we will stay together for next year as well.
“On top of that we have got a great manager and backroom staff. It all seems to be going in the right direction. I couldn’t sign the new contract quickly enough to be honest.”
A second-place finish would cap it all off but, insisted Hanlon, that would only set a benchmark for years to come. He said: “We have put ourselves in a great position. If we do finish second then we will have set our standards. It will then be about doing it again and again. If we finish third or fourth it will be about trying to improve on that and maintaining it for the next few years.”