Paul Hanlon relives his stand-out European memory as Hibs defender eyes Conference League run
The evening ended in heartache but the preceding 120 mins of action against Brondby, and his own spot-kick success will live long in the memory of Paul Hanlon.
Of the European ties he has contested since he was given his first taste of continental competition, against Swedish side Elfsborg in the now-mothballed Intertoto Cup, Hibs’ victory over the Danish side in 2016 stands out.
Under Neil Lennon, the Leith side travelled to Denmark determined to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg. But while they played superbly to win the match, thanks to David Gray’s goal, the aggregate scoreline was locked at 1-1, requiring a tense period of extra time and then, ultimately penalties.
John McGinn missed Hibs’ first effort and, although Hanlon, Grant Holt and Martin Boyle all converted theirs, it wasn’t enough against a clinical Brondby.
“Brondby away was a really enjoyable game and we won that game to take it to penalties. The whole experience was enjoyable until the very end and I thought we played some really good football that night.
“To a man everyone was brilliant and the only disappointment was that having won the game, we lost the tie on penalties. They were a proven European side with a lot of quality but over the two legs we matched them.”
Hibs return to European action on July 22, when they enter the second qualifying stage of the new Conference League and, following yesterday’s Uefa draw, they now have a better idea of who they will face.
Neither Andorran side Santa Coloma nor Mons Calpe, of Gibraltar, have the same standing as the Danish but Hanlon will still relish the challenge of overcoming relative unknowns and, hopefully he says, advancing through that and a further two ties to secure a spot in the group stage where he will embrace the chance to pit his wits against clubs with an established European pedigree and some household names.
“You have to be professional and treat every team properly and give them the utmost respect.
“It is, obviously, great to test yourself against the different types of players, different mentalities, things like that. We will do a lot of homework and I’m sure there will be a lot of video work to make sure we are up to speed on how they like to play and then it will just be a case of trying to get as match fit and focused as we can be for when that game comes around.”
Their most recent European run, in 2018/19, included a mix of minnows - they thrashed NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands 12-5 on aggregate - and well-known outfits such as Norway’s Molde who eventually ended their Europa League hopes.
“You obviously want to enjoy these experiences and be able to look back on them as good memories. You want as many to be as positive as possible, especially in these early ties but you’ll eventually get to a stage when you’re desperate to play real top teams. So we have to take it round by round and see how far that takes us. Hopefully, it takes us into the group stages - that’s when we will face bigger teams and the fans, as well as the players, can get really excited about it.”