Ryan McGivern today admitted his Hibs debut had been a bitter-sweet moment, his first appearance in a green and white shirt coinciding with the Easter Road outfit’s unbeaten run being brought to an end by Aberdeen.
The Northern Ireland internationalist had been forced to watch from the bench as Pat Fenlon’s side had stretched that record to six matches, the player being an unused substitute in the two games which followed his arrival on loan from Manchester City – a home win against Kilmarnock followed by a draw with Inverness Caley.
McGivern finally got a taste of the action as he replaced Alan Maybury at Pittodrie, Fenlon deciding to withdraw the much-travelled defender rather than risk him being sent off having picked up an early booking for a foul on Dons kid Ryan Fraser.
At that stage, the beginning of the second half, Hibs’ hopes of hitting the top of the SPL were very much alive. Eoin Doyle’s stunning equaliser had cancelled out Niall McGinn’s fourth-minute opener only for the dream to be dashed for the second week in succession as Gavin Rae grabbed a winner for the Dons.
As disappointing as it was to suffer a league defeat for the first time since the opening day of the season against Dundee United, 22-year-old McGivern admitted the realisation of just where Hibs could be sitting today hurt even more.
He said: “The last couple of games we’ve had two chances to go top and let each of them slip. It was a massive carrot before each game knowing that if we took the three points we’d go top so to just not quite manage to do it was disappointing for everyone.”
McGivern insisted, however, that having recovered from that opening-day mauling at Tannadice to embark on their unbeaten run, Fenlon’s players were more than capable of doing so again. He said: “The way things are shaping up, this could be a very, very tight league this season, particularly when you look at some of the results at the weekend. Anyone can beat anyone else and in that respect it’s similar to the Championship in England. It’s going to be the most consistent teams, the ones that can grind out results, who will be at the top end. We’ve been up around there, we’ve had a little setback, but now it is up to us to bounce back against Dundee this weekend and get back to winning ways.”
In the wake of Hibs’ last two results, Fenlon revealed he felt all his side had been lacking in those games was a little bit of self-belief. McGivern agrees with his manager’s opinion, saying: “I think he is right. We have played most of the teams in the league now and there’s nothing to fear.
“It’s all about being consistent, going out every Saturday knowing there are three points up for grabs and knowing you can do it. I think the boys know we have a good squad and if we can do that then we’ll be right in there amongst it all.”
Having watched on from the outside, McGivern has his fingers firmly crossed that he’ll be in the thick of it over the coming weeks, his loan agreement running, at least initially, until January. He said: “I was happy to make my debut but obviously disappointed we didn’t manage to keep the unbeaten run going.
“Although every footballer wants to play I wasn’t too frustrated at being on the bench. It was only for a couple of games and, in fairness, the boys in the team have done well and they fully deserved their places. For me it was just a matter of keeping my head down, working hard and now I’ve made my debut hopefully I did enough in the 45 minutes to get a start, although I’ll have to wait and see what the manager decides.”
The first 45 minutes on the bench did, however, give McGivern a close-up view of the dangers Fraser had been posing Hibs although, ironically, the youngster limped off injured just nine minutes after McGivern took to the field. He said: “Ideally you like to be on from the start to be able to build your way into the game. But when you are on the bench you are paying attention to what is going on, to be ready for what you are going to be facing should you be called upon. We’d done well to get ourselves level and we’d gone back out aiming to try for the win but, unfortunately, it just didn’t happen for us.
“It was some strike from Eoin to equalise. I was warming up behind the goals at the other end and when I saw him going to strike the ball as it came over his shoulder I was wondering ‘What is he doing?’
“I should have known as he does it in training but there was that momentary delay when, I think, no-one was quite sure where the ball had gone. From the other end it looked to me as if he’d hit the side-netting but he’d taken it early when the goalkeeper wasn’t expecting it and there was probably also a bit of movement on the ball. It was just such a great strike.”
The visit of Dundee this weekend, as McGivern pointed out, presents Fenlon’s players with the chance to get back on the winning trail, the added importance of doing so being the game will be followed by another break from domestic competition as the second round of World Cup qualifying matches takes place.
While most countries will be facing a double-header, Northern Ireland will have only one match, away to Portugal who are joint top of Group F with Russia after both nations won their opening two games, while Michael O’Neill’s squad managed a solitary point from their fixtures against the Russians and Luxembourg.
The draw against Luxembourg in Belfast last month had been McGivern’s only game time until his second-half appearance at Pittodrie and he hopes O’Neill has taken note of the fact that he is back in action.
Capped 18 times, McGivern said: “To be picked for your national team you need to be playing week in, week out. The squad hasn’t been named yet, but hopefully he’s seen I came on against Aberdeen and got a bit of game time and call me up and I’ll take it from there.
“But playing against Portugal in Lisbon would be a great experience.”