Paul Hanlon has made 300 appearances for Hibernian but the defender says there is still unfinished business to be addressed.
That is the reason he chose to sign a new contract with the Championship club in the summer, despite the fact that life in the second tier is undermining his chances of catching Gordon Strachan’s eye.
The 300-game milestone came against Morton last weekend, and it is one Hanlon is proud of but, aged just 26, he knows that there could be many more highlights to come if he can concentrate on tackling them one at a time.
“It’s nice to reach these milestones. I am quite young to do it so I am delighted. There are some people who will get to 300 in their whole career. Hopefully I will have many more appearances to come. When I made my debut, if you had said to me then that I would play 300 by the time I was 26 I would have thought that was brilliant but it was just another game, really.”
It is not just the number of games he has under his belt, it is the fact that they have come at one club. With injuries to first and second-choice full-backs, David Murphy and Lewis Stevenson, Hanlon was still 17 when he made his debut under Mixu Paatelainen, in a Scottish Cup tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, back in 2008. He needed a bit of luck to make the breakthrough but, speaking in the build-up to today’s match at home to Raith Rovers, he says he had to dig deep to feature in the plans of every manager who has walked into Easter Road since.
“A lot of people need that bit of luck to get into the team. Lewis was out injured and, for Lewis to get an injury, touch wood, that doesn’t happen very often so that was my stroke of luck. That got me in the team and I performed okay on my debut and once you have proved that you can handle yourself, and you are in there, it’s about trying to make a name for yourself. Once I was in there, it was about working hard to stay there.”
From full-back to centre-back, Hanlon is now part of a three-man rearguard that has proved itself a formidable backline in a team that has conceded just nine goals in 17 games and is a major factor in Hibs’ positioning at the top of the league table.
His performances have seen him touted for a call-up to the national team but the former Scotland U21 captain says that, while any overtures would be welcomed, he is not preoccupied with forcing his way into manager Strachan’s plans.
“It is nice to hear and it’s good to have my mates sticking up for me but it’s honestly not something I worry about or think about too much. There’s too much to think about with Hibs and trying to do well here.
“If it comes along then I would be delighted and it’s something I would be really proud of but I’m not worrying about it or going into games thinking ‘I need to do well if I’m going to get in the Scotland squad’.”
And until Hibs can command a place in the top flight again, he reckons it is a long shot, at best.
“If you were a manager who had a player in the English Championship and one in the Scottish Championship, then it is easier to pick the one in the English Championship because it is a much higher level to play at. But all I can do is try to do my best to get Hibs out of the Championship and into the Premiership. That is my main aim and I’m just trying to play well every week.”
With the signing of Kris Commons, albeit on a short-term loan, Hanlon says Hibs have issued a statement of intent and he believes they can make it third time lucky and book their return to the Premiership this term. It is why he felt he had to turn down other offers in the summer and sign a new deal with the Leith club rather than take a personal shortcut back to the top without them.
“I think there was a bit of unfinished business. I felt like I was part of the team that got relegated so it would be great to be in the team that comes back up and keep us there. It was a tough summer, there was a lot of things going on in my head and I thought ‘How can you get any better than winning the Scottish Cup? Is it time to try something new?’ but I’m delighted with the decision I made.”