DURING a strenuous summer regime of fitness work and travel, Danny Handling has racked up many kilometres on the treadmill and airmiles in abundance, but he is adamant the hard graft will pay dividends.
Just three days after Hibs’ 3-0 William Hill Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic, the 19-year-old flew to Holland with Scotland’s Under-20 side to take part in the Den Haag Tournament.
As an unofficial competition, Handling could have turned down the invitation from Billy Stark in favour of sun-worshipping in Spain or the lure of a Greek Island.
However, he reported for duty along with clubmates Brad Donaldson and Ross Caldwell and performed admirably, netting a double within five minutes of the first match against Cruzeiro of Brazil.
He was then handed the captain’s armband for the final group match against Club Brugge, before a worthwhile trip ended by being presented with the tournament top-scorer award by Dutch legend Louis van Gaal.
“I played in the Scottish Cup final, and then on Wednesday I was away with the Scotland under-20 side to Holland,” said Handling.
“I wasn’t initially sure if I would go over, because it was a long season and time off might have been preferable. But I went and I hope I get more chances like that because it went really well for myself.
“I scored two goals in the first five minutes, then got the captaincy in the third match, which was completely unexpected. But I took it on my shoulders and enjoyed the responsibility and opportunity.”
Following the run-out in Den Haag, Handling decided to forgo a summer holiday, preferring to stay in Scotland working on the close-season fitness regime handed to the players by manager, Pat Fenlon.
“Some of the boys were away to Spain and things like that and you can be a wee bit jealous of these guys getting some time in the sun and enjoying themselves,” he smiled.
“Maybe next year, for me!”
So far – and it is, of course folly to judge players in pre-season – Handling’s diligent summer appears to have been a wise choice as he has been a star man in both of the club’s friendlies thus far.
He created Hibs’ opener against Dumbarton a week ago with a beautifully weighted pass to fellow starlet Alex Harris.
Handling followed that by rounding off a fine team move against a Gibraltar XI during the club’s warm weather training camp in southern Spain. Now in Portugal, the well-travelled youngster is likely to be given another chance to impress against Nottingham Forest tonight at the Vila Real San Antonio Stadium in the Algarve. With trips to Holland, Spain and Portugal – via Gibraltar – racked up, you could forgive the player if his wanderlust was beginning to wane. However, his enthusiasm ahead of the new campaign is undeterred.
“Everything is going really well at the moment, although, being self-critical, I would have liked a few more goals against Dumbarton,” Handling continued. “But I played Boozy [Alex Harris] through for the goal and I was quite happy with the performance in that one. The win against Gibraltar was a good team performance and I thought I had a decent game, managing to get a goal, so that was pleasing.
“It is a big pre-season for myself, there are only two strikers on the books – me and Ross Caldwell – and we are enjoying the responsibility and doing well together. You have to look forward to the challenge of trying to replace the quality of the boys who have left. Leigh Griffiths was a massive player for us, so was Doyler [Eoin Doyle].
“A lot of fans will be hoping we get a couple of strikers in, but we want to prove a point to the supporters and the gaffer that we can do a job for the club – and we will do our best to do that.”
This evening’s match against Billy Davies’s Championship team will be the toughest test of Hibs’ pre-season thus far, and a fine indicator of their readiness to face either Malmo or Drogheda on July 18 in the Europa League.
If manager Fenlon needs any advice on how to approach the game Handling is happy to oblige.
He added: “There are some really good players in that side – me and Boozy were on Wikipedia the other night doing a bit of scouting!
“Looking at the squad, there is real quality there. They have guys like Andy Reid – technically great and has played loads of games in the Premiership. It’s a good challenge for us and exactly what you want at this stage of pre-season.”