Paul Hanlon speaks on Hibs captaincy, European adventure, and building on last season
Paul Hanlon is about to embark on his 15th season as a Hibs player and, all being well, stands a good chance of reaching his 500th appearance in green and white some time in early 2022.
It is this longevity, and his reliability, that will stand him in good stead should he get the nod to succeed David Gray as club captain, who has taken on a coaching role at Easter Road having taken the decision to retire from playing duties.
The boyhood Hibee is no stranger to wearing the armband, having acted as skipper on the park, but admits he would relish the chance to take on the extra responsibility on a permanent basis.
"I think there are still a few discussions to be had with the manager in terms of targets and goals, which will be ironed out over the next couple of weeks, but if the armband is given to me I’ll be honoured and proud to captain the club on a full-time basis,” Hanlon said ahead of Hibs’ pre-season friendly against Arsenal.
“It will be great to have Dave still among the staff because he’s been through a lot as captain so I can lean on him a bit if I need to.”
The Scottish Cup hero of 2016 has made a big impression following his installation as one of Jack Ross’ trusted lieutenants, and Hanlon believes the influential Gray will continue to do so.
"He has so much respect throughout the building, not just from the players, and the transition has been pretty much seamless – a lot of that comes from the respect he has from the whole dressing room.
"As soon as he speaks in training or gives any instructions, all the boys are listening and engaged and that will stand him in good stead throughout his career.
"He’s always had that idea [of management] in his head and we went through coaching badges together. He’s done a lot of talking with the gaffer about how his role plays out and the intricacies of his job so there's no doubt he has an interest and he’s in a great place right now to be learning as much as possible from the manager.”
Hanlon helped Hibs to their first third-place finish in the Scottish top flight in 16 years last term and is eager for the side to use it as a springboard for continued success.
“We've still to have the chat about targets for this season. We're still in the preparation stage at the moment but I’m sure over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing plans for the season,” the 31-year-old explained.
“We hit our league target last season and with a few better performances we would have managed to win a cup as well.
"The important thing now is to build on that and have that continuity and put in those sorts of performances more regularly.”
With Hibs looking ahead to a Europa Conference League encounter against either Mons Calpe of Gibraltar or Andorra’s FC Santa Coloma, Hanlon insists that having a European game on the horizon won’t change too much in terms of the side’s preparation.
He continued: “We’re always focused on the next game no matter the opposition, whether it’s Europe or the League Cup – it’s just a case of being focused for the first competitive game and our reward for finishing third last season is playing in Europe so we’re really excited about it and our main focus throughout pre-season has been getting as fit as possible for that game.
"We’ve done a lot of really hard fitness work and the last few games before Europe is all about the tactical element and how we’re going to play.”
Having already tasted continental football with Hibs, Hanlon is eager for the side to prolong their stay in the newest European competition.
"It’s an old cliche but you do take every round as it comes,” the centre-back laughed.
“It’s going to be a difficult task wherever we end up in this round and then it’s about seeing how far we can go.
"We’ve got a squad full of people who are excited to be involved, who are driven, and hungry to get as far as we possibly can.”
Although the Scottish Cup final defeat is still relatively fresh in the mind, Hanlon is keen for Hibs to use their Hampden heartbreak as inspiration for the new campaign.
“I think we performed well during the league campaign; we finished third pretty comfortably in the end after a few weeks when it got a bit tight,” he reasoned.
"We were strong in that position but when you get so close in cup competitions… it’s the dream for all fans, to see your team lift a trophy, so that did put a dampener on the season.
“The cup final was a real tough one to take. The first few weeks of the summer it's the first thing on your mind and you just want that opportunity to play again.
"That’s got to be our driver and our focus for this season. We’ve done it once now in terms of finishing third in the league and now it’s about keeping that going. We don’t want to be a team that does it once and wait 16 years to do it again.
"We want to be a team doing that year in, year out.”