In the grand scheme of things, Hibs’ three-year hiatus from European football is hardly a disastrous drought. In footballing terms, however, it is a lifetime.
Nobody embodies that more than Paul Hanlon, who is the only player currently at Easter Road to have played any part in the club’s last foray to the continent, in 2010.
In Hibs’ brief and underwhelming Europa League campaign of three years ago, the Capital club were comfortably swept aside by NK Maribor, with the Slovenians cruising to a 6-2 aggregate win.
Hanlon played the full 90 minutes in the away leg and was powerless to stop a Josip Illicic-inspired Maribor from claiming a 3-0 victory, with the mercurial playmaker netting a brace and Marcos Tavares scoring the third.
The job was completed in Edinburgh by Maribor with a 3-2 win a week later.
As painful a defeat as it was, Europe proved to be an invaluable learning curve for the former Scotland Under-21 captain, and he cannot wait to face either Malmo or Drogheda in the second qualifying round of this season’s Europa League.
“It’s been a while since that game, and you can see the turnaround in the squad and the amount of bodies that have come and gone over the last couple of years,” said Hanlon.
“But the boys here now are buzzing for Europe. You come back a few weeks earlier than most teams for pre-season but it is worth it to be involved in European football. It is the stage you want to play on as a footballer.
“It is massive for the football club. It excites the players and it gives the fans a chance to go abroad and watch the team. Hopefully we can do them proud.
“My European experience was a lot shorter than I would have liked, with just a couple of games, but it was a brilliant experience to play at that level.
“Hopefully I can pass on a bit of experience to the younger boys in the group, the likes of Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell, who have not played in the competition before.”
Lewis Stevenson was on the books with Hibs three years ago but did not gain any game time against a hugely talented Maribor side, which boasted Illicic and Armin Bacinovic, both of whom would go on to play in Serie A with Palermo.
The quality of the Maribor side was matched by the performance of their supporters, who created an almighty din at the Stadion Ljudski vrt.
After Malmo’s 0-0 draw with Drogheda in Dublin in the Europa League first qualifying round last night, the Swedes remain firm favourites to be Hibs’ opponents later this month.
And if their SwedeBank Arena can boast the same atmosphere as Maribor’s Slovenian cauldron, Hanlon will be a happy man.
“Plenty of Hibs fans turned out for the occasion and, even though it was not the best result, the atmosphere they created was brilliant,” continued Hanlon.
“It was an intense place to play, their fans were amazing and it was great to be involved in that. I hope it is the same this time round.
“There was constant cheering and singing. One stand would start a chant and the other stand would finish it. Everyone else would join in. There was an incredible noise and it is the kind of stage you want to play on. I enjoyed it a lot. They were a good side, they had a lot of quality in their team, and I don’t think people realised just how good they were until they progressed and played the bigger sides. They were two tough games and a great learning curve.”
Hanlon is the only man to have played every minute of Hibs’ pre-season campaign thus far, completing useful workouts again Dumbarton in Scotland and the Gibraltar national team while on tour.
Having shared a backline with James McPake, Jordon Forster, Lewis Stevenson, Ryan McGivern, Brad Donaldson and David Gold, he is adamant there is strength in depth in defence.
Fraser Mullen, in particular, caught the eye against Gibraltar on Wednesday evening, netting a fine 25-yard free kick in his first appearance since crossing the Edinburgh divide last week.
“He was composed on the ball, defending well and the free kick was top drawer,” he continued.
“He’s a quiet lad and just gets on with his business and I don’t think moving from Hearts to Hibs is something that will bother him.
“He will probably get a bit of stick when we go back to Tynecastle but I’m sure he will handle it. He was released by Hearts so I’m sure he will go back there wanting to prove a point.”