James McPake reckons Hibs kid Paul Hanlon is ready for anything the game may throw at him following the Easter Road outfit’s desperate battle to beat the drop.
And, he insists, he has nothing but admiration for the way in which the 22-year-old coped with the stress and anxiety which built up week by week until that victory over Dunfermline in the penultimate SPL match of the season hauled Hibs to safety.
Although many insist that the arrival of McPake on loan from Coventry City was a major reason for that – a steadying influence in the centre of defence, who provided the leadership required – he insisted that the contribution of Hanlon, who played more games than any other Hibs player last season, shouldn’t be overlooked.
In all, Hanlon pulled on a green and white shirt 43 times, to adding a string of matches as Scotland’s Under-21 captain.
But if it was a tough experience for Hanlon and other youngsters such as David Wotherspoon, who was also a stalwart in making 37 appearances despite finding himself on the fringes of boss Pat Fenlon’s plans towards the end of the campaign, McPake, pictured below, firmly believes it is one which will stand them in good stead throughout their careers.
Impatiently awaiting the start of the new SPL season, in which he intends to lead the Capital outfit to where he believes they should be, the club captain said: “People forget the age of these guys, playing for a massive club and in the position we were in. It does take a lot out of them mentally as well as physically.
“Take Paul for example. He played in just about every game in a team that just escaped relegation two weeks before the end of the season and also got to a Scottish Cup final. For me, that’s great experience for him. I can only speak about the time after I arrived in January, but Paul was one of our better players. Without him it could have been a lot tougher.
“He was exceptional, a top, top player especially for one so young. For me Paul was brilliant. I think he helped me as much as I helped him in different ways. He was great to play beside and I think we built a good partnership.
“I think he handled it well, as did all the young boys. I think that, if we start this season well, they’ll look back and realise they learned a lot from that bitter experience.”
McPake and Hanlon look certain to re-estabish that partnership when Hibs travel to meet Dundee United in their opening SPL match, with Fenlon having taken the first steps in rebuilding his squad by signing former Kilmarnock and Motherwell defender Tim Clancy and Partick Thistle’s Paul Cairney.
Some may view their arrivals as low key, but McPake, who anticipates Fenlon bringing in further signings, is adamant they will more than prove their worth at Easter Road.
The former Livingston star said of the player who is likely to line up alongside him at right back: “Tim had a very good season with Motherwell last season. He played most weeks for a team which finished third in the SPL and before that he was with Kilmarnock. He’s an experienced player, which we are perhaps lacking a bit at the moment, who has been round the block a few good times. He’s someone who knows the SPL, so I am sure he’ll prove to be a good addition.”
McPake backed Fenlon’s decision to go for Cairney, who proved to be a free-scoring midfielder in the First Division last season – pointing out how his former team-mates in West Lothian, Graham Dorrans and Robert Snodgrass – are carving names for themselves in England, Dorrans with West Brom and Snodgrass as captain of Leeds United, while both have been capped by Scotland.
Now a full international himself, having won his first cap for Northern Ireland in a friendly against Holland, McPake said: “I haven’t seen much of Paul but I’ve heard a lot about him. I know a few of the guys at Ross County and everyone I have spoken to says he has a lot of quality.
“It’s worked before for other clubs bringing players up from the First Division. I know there’s quality there, so hopefully Paul can step up and do for us what he was doing for Partick last season.”