Sean Murdoch is evidently not ready to swap his gloves for a whistle just yet.
The 26-year-old, making his first start of pre-season, cut a composed figure between the sticks for Hibs last night as Pat Fenlon’s side claimed an entertaining 3-1 win over a handy Gibraltar side.
He certainly did not look like someone ready to quit playing to pursue a career as a man in black. Indeed, he is reticent to discuss what is an enjoyable and, until recently, secret pastime in the sport.
Murdoch has worked as an assistant referee in junior football and confesses to an interest in that side of the game. However, he had no intention of turning his back on what promises to be an intriguing campaign and last week signed a one-year contract extension at Easter Road.
He will, of course, start the campaign as back-up to the undisputed Easter Road No. 1, Ben Williams, but the prospect of being involved in a Europa League campaign and the Hibees bid for a top six place in the inaugural SPFL Premiership is something he is relishing.
“I’m on the list [of referees], but it not as if I am about to give up football,” explained the former Dunfermline and Hamilton stopper.
“I want to play as long as I can and, as long as the manager wants me and thinks I bring something to the squad, I am happy to stay. It is just something I enjoy doing on the side and it is really no big deal.
“You would be amazed how many people don’t actually know the rules of the game! It is enjoyable to see the other side of the game on occasion.”
On his new contract at Easter Road, he continued: “The manager asked me at the end of last season if I wanted to stay, because Ben Williams has cemented the place as number one – he has been our best player arguably.
“I think maybe the gaffer thought I was looking to go elsewhere, but I love it here. Hibs are my club – I’ve supported them for years and it is good to still be here.
“The gaffer obviously sees me as a potential number one if anything happens to Ben, who is a great guy. We work well together and push each other on.”
Sandwiched between the famous Rock and the national airport’s main runway, there can be few stranger locations in world football than Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium.
At one stage, the roar of a Boeing 737 taking off a mere 200 yards away from the pitch drowned out a respectable atmosphere at the home of UEFA’s youngest nation.
And within minutes of the kick-off, Gibraltar were flying, Anthony Hernandez shooting wildly over the bar with 60 seconds after a super defence-splitting pass by Portsmouth’s Liam Walker, The Rock’s only professional export.
That was followed by Nathan Santos firing straight into the grateful arms of Murdoch.
However the encounter quickly became the Fraser Mullen show. Making his first appearance since crossing the Edinburgh divide, having been released by Hearts in May, all eyes were naturally on the youngster’s display.
The spectacle was made all the more intriguing by a band of supporters decked in Hearts jerseys among a vociferous portion of the crowd jeering him mercilessly throughout.
But in his first appearance since breaking his foot in March, ironically against Hibs, he had the last laugh, producing the game’s true stand-out moment of quality.
Utterly against the run of play, the ex-Jambo curled Hibs into a 13th minute lead, sending a 25-yard free-kick past Jamie Robba.
The 19-year-old cruised through his debut and must be considered the favourite to start at right-back for the upcoming Europa League tie against Drogheda or Malmo, with Tim Clancy struggling to recover from a summer groin operation.
It is a baptism of fire in which Mullen will thrive, according to Hibs boss Pat Fenlon.
“It was a tough ask for him to come in and play in this heat, but he has a great mentality. And, as far as I am concerned, If they are good enough, they are old enough,” said the Irishman.
“If they are fit and ready to play, they will play. Tim [Clancy] will be struggling for Europe, but we also need to be careful with Fraser. We can’t push him too hard.
“It was a great goal and I was delighted for him. You are always looking for players who can deliver the ball at set-pieces and he has a lot of ability.
“We had that with Leigh [Griffiths] last season and it’s a great bonus for us.”
Jeremy Lopez deservedly restored parity from point blank range on 55 minutes, but it only served to spark Hibs into life, and once again a goal of consummate quality followed. A fine team move on 61 minutes involving Paul Cairney, Alex Harris and Ross Caldwell was finished from close range by Danny Handling, netting his first goal of pre-season.
Some late gloss was applied with Caldwell converting a cross from teenage substitute Dean Horribine with 14 minutes remaining.
Looking back on a passable workout on balmy night in the tiny British territory, Fenlon added: “I was delighted. We played well, score some decent goals and worked hard.”
Hibs continue their pre-season campaign on Saturday, when they will face Billy Davies’ Championship outfit, Nottingham Forest, in Portugal.
Gibraltar (4-5-1): Robba; D Duarte, Casciaro, Sargaent, Chipolina; Hernandez, Walker, Payas, Ruiz, Guiling (Lopez 46); Santos (JP Duarte 46).
Hibernian (4-4-2): Murdoch; Mullen (McGivern 64), Hanlon, Forster, Stevenson (Gold 71); Stanton (Harris 50), Taiwo (Horribine 64), Thomson (Craig 46), Cairney (Tudur Jones 64); Handling (Donaldson 82), Caldwell. Subs not used: Williams.
Referee: Yaro Borg