Hibs defender Paul Hanlon is relieved to be fit again after a seemingly innocuous knock led to him spending two demoralising months on the sidelines.
The influential centre-back returned to the side for last weekend’s draw with Dundee after missing the previous six matches with a leg injury sustained in the Betfred Cup quarter-final against Aberdeen in September.
“Originally it was just a collision with (Aberdeen goalkeeper) Joe Lewis and I got a bang on my thigh,” said Hanlon. “It felt like a standard dead leg but I was struggling to shift it. I got it scanned and there was calcification, which is calcium deposits on the muscle that can eventually form bone, so I had to go on a spell of medication to try and get the flexibility and movement back in my thigh.
“It was a bit unexpected, to be honest. I just had to take it on the chin, take the tablets and let it run its course.”
Hanlon explained that even a relatively short lay-off like the one he has just endured is mentally testing for a player.
“It’s hard being injured,” he said. “You hear of certain players getting injured a lot and being given the injury-prone tag, but no player in the world wants to be stuck in the gym every day. It’s the worst part of football.
“I’m always desperate to help the team on a Saturday and go out and kick a ball about in training during the week. It’s frustrating when you can’t do it.
“When you’re injured, you just have to try and take the positives from it, work hard, do a bit more upper body work and things like that.
“We have great facilities here but I don’t like looking at the same wall every day in the gym or the physio room.
“It’s nice to do your warm-up in the morning then go out and play football. But when you’re stuck in there you’ve only really got the walk bike or the spin bike, or the weights to work on so it’s tough going at times.
“The physios and sports scientist team are great and the try to mix it up where they can, but there’s a strict rehab you need to stick to.”
Having returned to the team last weekend, Hanlon is relishing the intense run of eight fixtures this month, which starts with today’s trip to Kilmarnock.
Captain David Gray is also back in the mix for the match after an absence which has spanned almost two months.
Hibs continue to be plagued by injuries, however, with Emerson Hyndman, Thomas Agyepong, Marvin Bartley and Jamie Maclaren all unlikely to make today’s match.
“I’m right back into the thick of it,” said Hanlon. “We’ve got lots of fixtures coming up so it’s important to get as much of a clean bill of health as we can get because we’re going to need everyone fit.
“The treatment room’s been a bit too busy this season. Me and Dave Gray have been on the same sort of path together in terms of timeframe. It’s not been ideal. The gaffer’s probably not had as settled a team as he would have wanted. Injuries have played their part in that as well as inconsistency of performance. We’ve not been winning games we should be.”
Indeed, Hibs haven’t won any of their last five matches.
Although they have slipped from second place to seventh over the past two months, Hanlon, who was at Hibs when they finished in the bottom six three years running between 2011 and 2014, is adamant this is not a time for major concern.
“You can’t be calling this a crisis or anything close to that because we’ve seen a few of those where it has been really tough times in the past,” he said. “I think now we just need to work really hard together and get a result to get us going. Psychologically you want to be in the top six. We were used to it all of last season. A win against Kilmarnock would definitely help us on our way.”
Hanlon agreed with manager Neil Lennon that the loss of key men from last season like John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch has had an effect, but insists they can still compete at the top end of the Premiership.
“We’re definitely still good enough to get into the top four,” he said. “Take boys like McGinn and McGeouch out of any team in our league and you’d notice a difference. We’ve brought great players in. We just need to get going now.”