Paul Hanlon impressed by Will Fish as he speaks on injury battle and why Hibs can finish the season strongly
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Now 33, some might have expected him to have been winding his career down and helping to bring through younger players in the same way pal Lewis Stevenson has been doing with Oscar MacIntyre but the sale of Ryan Porteous to Watford and a long-term injury suffered by Rocky Bushiri has seen Hanlon form a new central defensive partnership with Will Fish, 14 years his junior.
More than anything, though, Hanlon is glad the transfer window is out of the way and the Easter Road squad can concentrate on getting results on the pitch without the background of speculation on departures and arrivals.
“There was a bit of uncertainty among everyone really, some lads maybe thinking, ‘am I going to go, am I staying?’ It’s a bit up and down and focus can get taken away from training and matches but it’s nice that it’s settled back down again,” he says, as he previews Saturday’s trip to face St Mirren in Paisley.
Hanlon has been managing an injury for a while but has still been giving 100 per cent on the park, as is his wont, but he is glad to be on the other side of it now, having ‘felt really good’ in the last couple of matches.
“I’ve been a bit in and out of the team and the majority of it has been down to injury. I’ve had a niggling hamstring for 6-8 weeks now, going back to the World Cup break. It was getting to the stage where I had to come off it and manage it,” he explains. “A few games I came off about 60 minutes in when we were winning which was handy for me not to aggravate it, but a few times I had to hold my hand up and concede I wasn’t doing anyone any favours by playing. I seem to be on top of it now, the last two games I have felt really good, so hopefully it stays like that.
“I’ve had it a few times in my career and it’s a balancing act. You don’t want to let anyone down, the manager wants you to play – but you could let someone down if you do play, so it’s a hard one. The majority of the time I just need it taken out of my hands.
“But this time I was the one who said it. That comes with experience. When I was younger I’d soldier on until someone told me: ‘Get off the pitch, you’re useless!’ You learn with experience. I saw someone 5-6 years ago who helped me loads with my groins, and he seems to have done the same this time because I feel good. Last season it was my knee. I played knowing I’d need surgery at the end of the season and I got that done right after the last game which cost me a bit of pre-season. I’m just getting old, that’s the problem!”
On Fish, Hanlon has partnered the Manchester United loanee for the last two matches and has been impressed by both the teenager’s ability and his steeliness in bouncing back from a nightmare debut at Tynecastle Park when he was dispossessed in the lead-up to Hearts’ first goal in the 3-0 new year derby defeat.
"I’ve only played the last two games side by side but at Tynecastle he played right-back, which he had never really played before so it was probably a tough environment to judge him on,” Hanlon says. “The last two games he has been different class, really good. He has all the attributes at this age to really kick on. If the last two games are anything to go by he has plenty of potential. That’s part of the job as you get older, passing things on, but to be fair to Will on the pitch he is really receptive. He doesn’t have tunnel vision all the time and he’s a great lad. I’m gutted during the week we didn’t get two clean sheets as that would have been two in a row. He obviously comes from a big club but his attitude to learn is different class, he is always asking questions – ‘where should I be’, ‘what should I have done then?’ Physically for his age at 19, he’s a big boy, attacks the ball well, but can play with some pace too, so basically exactly what you want in a modern-day footballer. What more do you need? His attitude to learn is probably the best thing. You would never know he’d come from United and that’s probably the best thing about him.”
January arrival CJ Egan-Riley made his debut against Ross County and while he has only had 15 or 20 minutes of action, the club captain is already impressed with what he’s seen from the Burnley loanee, and believes Jimmy Jeggo has added an extra layer of protection for the defence.
"He had only just joined the squad and said hello, next minute he’s up at Ross County coming on in gale-force winds on a Tuesday night. It’s difficult, especially having played academy football. He dealt with it well, within a minute of coming on he had a good last-ditch tackle. I think that settled him down and he was good. He seems like a good addition as well.
"Jimmy just sees the danger. He’s another one that, when you’re talking from the back, he hears and acts straight away and is proper switched-on. He isn’t just following the ball, he can hear what you’re saying and is a really good honest, hard-working lad. He’s good on the ball as well.”