Hibs defender Darren McGregor has no intention of hanging up boots before end of new deal
Darren McGregor is hopeful that the hard work he has put in throughout his career will serve him well as he bids to keep playing for Hibs well into his late 30s.
The 33-year-old centre-back prides himself on his ongoing devotion to ensuring his body is in prime condition, and he feels this has been vindicated by the fact he has just been handed a four-year contract extension at Easter Road that will take him up to just shy of his 38th birthday.
Although ambassadorial and mentoring duties form part of his new deal, McGregor is adamant that he intends to continue playing for the duration of it. In that regard, he feels his relentless dedication to his profession over the years, allied to a ferocious determination within himself, will allow him to eke out as much as he possibly can from his football career.
“It’s a stretch imagining me playing for Hibs at 37 just now and I can understand why naysayers would say ‘37?’ But I can only tell you how I feel and the way I am as a person, the way I approach every single day with my rehab and my prehab, my diet and just how I look after myself on and off the field,” said McGregor. “All these things are factors that are ingrained in me from a young age. I’ve not just flicked a switch six months ago and said ‘I’m going to be this person’, I’ve been this way since I arrived here so I’m hoping the club have seen the good in me and that I have a lot to offer.
“The new roles will mean a bit of a transitional period but the main focus for me is that I’m a first-team player and I want to focus on that as much as I can.”
McGregor believes his humble beginnings in Leith have helped ensure he has grasped every chance that has come his way in football.
The defender only became a full-time professional nine years ago, when he was 24, and has gone from strength to strength since then, despite suffering two severe knee injuries while with St Mirren.
“I grew up in a family of five and we were never really given much, never really taken away on holiday,” he said. “That’s not to lambast my mum and dad! I don’t know where it came from but I just always had a will to succeed, to be the best I can be. It was just ingrained in me as a youngster and every opportunity I’ve had, I’d like to think I’ve taken it, whether it be thinking that was the end of the road after getting released by Cowdenbeath, then going to Arniston Rangers, going back to Cowdenbeath, then to St Mirren, thinking ‘am I good enough?’.
“Maybe a lot of it was fear of not meeting the standard that was driving me. I can look back and attribute it all to my mental toughness and my work ethic. You can’t cheat yourself because if you cut corners, it shows, whether it be in games or towards the end of your career.”
McGregor is pleased that – along with captain David Gray – he has been one of the first to benefit from Hibs’ desire to maintain strong ties with popular long-serving players as they approach the end of their playing careers.
“George Craig (head of football operations) said something very poignant to me, that there’s always been a pathway for young players in to the first team, but very seldom is their a transition plan for a first-team player the other way, so I’m just grateful that Hibs have given me that opportunity,” said the defender. “By no means am I going to hang up my boots and say I’m fully focused on another role within the club. I’m wanting to play for as long as I can and obviously if I can do the mentoring, the ambassador stuff and just promote Hibs in a positive light – which I think I do anyway – then I’ll do that to my fullest.
“George gave me and Dave a wee booklet of the roles and responsibilities that we could undertake depending on games and things. It’s just about mentoring and being somebody to look up to, somebody to aspire to, basically being an experienced player within the camp setting a good example.”
McGregor, who worked full-time in Xile clothes shop before joining St Mirren from Cowdenbeath in 2010, believes the amount of life and football experience within Hibs’ dressing-room makes East Mains the perfect place for young players to learn their trade.
“I’ve worked a 40/50-hour week, I’ve trained part-time, I’ve played full-time, I’ve had two serious injuries and come back from them, so I’ve got a lot of experience to impart on any youngster who wants their ear chewed off,” he said. “It’s the kind of stuff I do anyway, and me and Dave both came to that conclusion, but it’s just a case of putting a title on it.
“I think the club know what they get with me, but it’s not just me and Dave. We’ve got a really solid group of older professionals who have played at all different levels – the Premier League and the Championship in England, the Premiership up here for over ten years – so there’s a lot of experience here to impart on these youngsters if they want to listen in. All they need to do is walk through that door and bring a good attitude with them and they’ve got everything here at their disposal to be the best they can be.”
McGregor is a bona fide Hibs legend by virtue of being the only Leither in the team that won the Scottish Cup in 2016. As he prepares to face Hearts on Sunday, it is worth recalling that things could have been so different, of course, if he had ended up signing for the Tynecastle side from St Mirren five years ago. Following talks with Hibs’ bitter rivals in 2014, he ended up signing for Rangers before getting his dream move to Easter Road a year later.
“I went in and spoke to Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson,” he said. “I had a hangover from Ibiza at the time! I spoke to them and they were very nice but nothing came of it. Ally McCoist phoned me so that changed everything. I’m a Hibs fan and I’m thankful that I’m here at the club I supported as a boy. I’ve had a lot of bumps in the road but to be sat here at the age I am with the prospects I’ve got, I’m really happy.”