Paul Hanlon looks back on first coaching experience as Hibs captain backs ex-team-mate to shine at World Cup

He’s won the Scottish Cup, captained his boyhood heroes, played for Scotland, and made over 500 appearances in green and white. Now Paul Hanlon can add in coaching a team at Easter Road to his impressive CV.

Along with team-mate and pal Lewis Stevenson, the 32-year-old managed the Hanlon Stevenson Select XI in Sunday’s charity match against a Franck Sauzée Select and more than 4,300 fans turned out to back the duo’s fundraiser.

“The game was good. Fair play to all the lads, and the boys who haven’t played football in years, for turning up to play. Some of them probably woke up and thought it was the last thing they wanted to do but everyone was fully committed and gave it their all, and it was a great turnout, especially from the fans. It was cold, the World Cup was starting, and there could have been loads of excuses for people not to turn out. But the numbers were great and me and Lewis are really grateful,” Hanlon said afterwards.

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An official attendance of 4,382 was recorded on a chilly mid-November afternoon in Leith and the Easter Road captain hailed the supporters for turning out and supporting the charity’s efforts.

“To get over 4,000 fans is great and we really appreciate it; it’s going to help a lot of good causes. I think there were probably a few of the older generation who will have seen every single player that was on the pitch at one stage. Some of the older players have kept themselves in great nick, so fair play to them. Guys like Steve Archibald, still moving really, really well – incredible,” he added.

“It was nice to catch up with a lot of familiar faces as well. I broke through when the likes of Ivan Sproule and Dean Shiels and Rob Jones were here but I had been watching them for a few years as a fan as well.

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“There were a lot of guys there who I remember watching as a fan, so it was nice to meet a few and to catch up with a few as well. For guys like big Rob, it would be easy to just turn up and say, ‘it’s a charity game’ and do the bare minimum. But they were on it, they were wanting to put all the effort in and we really appreciate it."

The Hanlon Stevenson Foundation worked immensely hard behind the scenes on the charity game, pushing on with their plans even when Franck Sauzée was forced to withdraw on health grounds. The return of the Frenchman to the Easter Road turf had been one of the key factors in staging the match but the team, led by chair Graeme Cadger and supported by Hanlon, Stevenson, and well-kent faces in Hibs circles plus a band of dedicated volunteers pulled out all the stops ahead of a difficult time of year for many people.

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Paul Hanlon takes his place in the dugout ahead of the Hibs charity match on Sunday

“The money raised will go into the Foundation but especially coming into winter we have a few things planned over Christmas,” Hanlon explained. “It’s a difficult time of year when we can do a lot of good and help people. There are people who find it hard at this time of year, with the cold weather coming in so, there will be loads going on over the next few months.”

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For Hanlon, the match was also a chance to get a taste of coaching. The long-serving defender has already started working towards getting his coaching badges and led one side along with Stevenson, while Alan Stubbs and Darren McGregor assumed managerial duties for the other side. While a charity match might not be the stiffest test, it was enough for the Hibs stalwart to get a taste of life on the touchline.

“I think it was a lack of coaching, to be fair! I just said to them all, ‘please look after yourselves, I don’t want anyone getting hurt’. The younger lads helped us and did us a favour by helping with the numbers, so the last thing I wanted was anyone getting hurt or injured,” he explained.

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“That was the main message. I had to juggle the formations a few times and make sure it went to plan in terms of who was playing a certain amount of minutes. That took a wee bit of work but once we got on top of that we were fine."

Former Hibs captain and League Cup-winner Rob Jones applauds the fans at full-time of the charity match
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Hanlon has also backed former team-mate Jason Cummings to catch the eye for Australia at the World Cup. While Hibs winger Martin Boyle was forced to withdraw from the squad through injury, the 25-year-old striker has a chance to impress on the world stage after his form for A-League outfit Central Coast Mariners earned him the chance to face France, Denmark, and Tunisia in Qatar this month.

Hanlon is sure the pair can be invaluable for the Socceroos, with Boyle taking on the role of ‘vibe manager’, and the Easter Road skipper will be backing Australia with plenty of Hibs connections in the squad.

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“Jason will be exactly the same as what he always is. Boyler is the life and soul of our dressing room and he’s the exact same there. It’ll definitely be a lively dressing room. I hope Australia do well, because there are a lot of lads we know in their dressing room,” Hanlon continued.

“Jason was probably at a bit of a crossroads in his career but he’s gone to Australia, scored goals, and it’s worked out perfectly for him. It’s given him a new lease of life and you want him to do well. He’s a great character and a great lad, so I’m delighted for him. He’s got plenty still to go, he probably just needed a wee spark to kick him on again. He’s the sort of character who will thrive on it – it’s not going to faze him one little bit.”

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Hanlon, right, with Lewis Stevenson in the dugout
Jason Cummings, centre, takes part in an Australia training session with Keanu Baccus, left, and Awer Mabil in Doha