It’s a move which worked for Hibs kids Danny Handling and Jordon Forster so now goalkeeper Paul Grant has his fingers crossed that being farmed out to Berwick Rangers will help him climb the ladder at Easter Road.
Handling, pictured below, and Forster both had spells on loan at the Third Division outfit before returning to the Capital to force their way into boss Pat Fenlon’s plans, ending last season as two of four teenagers who faced Celtic in the final of the Scottish Cup.
Now 20-year-old Grant is set to follow the same path having agreed to join the Shielfield Park side until January in search of regular first-team football rather than face the prospect of limited action, too old to play any longer for Hibs Under-20s and fully aware he ranks behind Ben Williams and Sean Murdoch when it comes to first-team duty.
And it’s a challenge the former Liberton High School pupil insists he’s relishing. He said: “I’ve played under-20 football for about four years so I need to get regular first-team football. I’m too old for under-20 football although clubs can field over-age players and, I think, an over-age goalkeeper every week if they want.
“But it is experience I need, to play first-team football against grown men every week and, in any case, if I were to do that I’d be blocking the progress of younger goalkeepers at the club.
“It’s hard for young goalkeepers to make the breakthrough sometimes, I don’t think managers tend to trust them but, at the same time, you need to get experience. I had a word with Pat Fenlon and he’s happy for me to go and play. I also spoke to Danny and Jordon who told me Berwick is a great club, that playing there helped them no end. Danny went there and they loved him because he scored one or two in his first game and went on to get seven goals in seven games.
“Jordon also did well and enjoyed a fantastic end to last season when he seemed to come from nowhere to make his debut in the derby win at Tynecastle and then went on to play in the cup final along with Danny, Alex Harris and Ross Caldwell who were all in last season’s under-20 squad.”
Grant, who rejoices in the nickname ‘Bobo’, enjoyed such a moment a year before his young team-mates, suddenly finding himself No. 2 behind Mark Brown after Graham Stack suffered a serious thigh injury in the cup semi-final win over Aberdeen, Stack’s misfortune paving the way for him to make his SPL debut in the final game of that season away to Inverness Caley and seven days later sitting on the bench at Hampden. After such experiences, he admitted it was difficult to readjust to returning to under-20s football. He said: “I knew what was coming but even so it’s hard because you’ve had a taste of the big stage. You’ve been on such a high, it’s difficult to go back to playing with the young boys, from playing at Inverness and being at Hampden with all those thousands of fans to playing at the training ground in front of a couple of hundred – if it was a big match.
“Once you’ve enjoyed first-team football you are desperate for more of the same.”
Shielfield Park may present more modest surroundings that also includes a speedway track, but Grant is convinced he’ll flourish having had a chat with Berwick boss Ian Little.
He said: “There would have been no point me making the move only to find myself on the bench but the manager assured me he wants me to be his No. 1 so he’s putting his trust in me.
“The plan is I’ll train as usual at East Mains with the rest of the goalkeepers and join Berwick on Tuesday and Thursday nights and, I’m told, every game will be filmed and a copy sent up to Easter Road. I am sure they’ll be speaking to Ian Little and no doubt have someone down at our matches from time to time.
“There seems to be a bit of a link between the clubs with Danny and Jordon having been here while Lee Currie and Steven Notman who were once with Hibs are in the Berwick team.”
Like every player, Grant is currently enduring pre-season training – double sessions with Fenlon’s squad – and the customary round of friendly matches, his first having been against Northumberland side Ashington Town, a game which ended in a 1-1 draw but without the young goalkeeper conceding a goal.
He added: “It went pretty well, I saved a penalty and they scored their goal after I came off after about an hour. But I can’t wait for the serious action to begin. We’ve got Livingston at home in the Ramsdens Cup which I’m really looking forward to as I have a couple of mates, Stefan Scougal and Colin McDonald, who play for them, and then we kick-off the League away to Clyde.”