Hibernian captain James McPake has delivered a withering response to unfounded rumours that he was set to retire through injury this summer, branding those who peddled the gossip “a joke” and a “shambles”.
Dumbarton 1-1 Hibernian
Scorers: Dumbarton - McKerracher (52); Hibernian - Harris (49)
Referee: E Anderson
The 28-year-old enjoyed a cameo against Dumbarton on Saturday, strolling through the last 22 minutes, even embarking on a marauding run forward at one point – “I got a bit carried away there, I think” – during the 1-1 draw. He received a raucous reception from the healthy travelling support at the Bet Butler Stadium following a summer of sensationalist rumours on Twitter and Internet message-boards.
McPake – so the hearsay went – was unable to recover from a persistent back injury and would hang up his boots at the age of 28. The influential defender is adamant he can laugh off such speculation, but the effect on his loved ones is a different matter entirely.
“The people who put that stuff out there are a shambles to be honest,” said a candid McPake. “These people think they have power, they go on Internet message-boards and think that they know everything.
“It just spreads from there. One or two people maybe knew a couple of things, but they just made the rest up. They obviously love the idea that so many people are listening to them. They are a joke.
“They can write what they want, it certainly does not affect me and it does not influence the thinking of the manager and doesn’t change my position at this football club. I know the condition I am in and I know what my body can do.
“I had a wee laugh to myself. I spoke to people and said: ‘How can you believe that?’ It is bizarre how they can go out their way to try to make you suffer.
“It is OK for me, I am big enough to handle it, but it is other people who suffer. I have people from my wife’s family texting her and saying: ‘Is this true?’ and it is all over Twitter and things, which can be difficult.”
Bellshill-born Northern Ireland international McPake was devastated to miss out on Hibs’ William Hill Scottish Cup final showpiece on 26 May, watching forlorn from the sidelines as the Easter Road side succumbed to a 3-0 reverse against Celtic.
However, he returned to pre-season before his team-mates a fortnight ago in a bid to build fitness, a quest which will continue in the sweltering heat of Spain and Portugal in the next six days.
However, he knows nothing will convince the cynics who seem determined to write him off.
“They are not proper fans if you ask me,” continued McPake, who will touch down with his team-mates in Spain this afternoon ahead of matches against a Gibraltar XI and Nottingham Forest.
“If they know so much then I would ask them to come and speak to me about it instead of putting it on an Internet forum or Twitter
“The rumours will probably start again this week if I don’t play against Gibraltar [on Wednesday] because we are on an astro-park. I’ll probably have had a big flare-up and that’s me finished again – for the second time in three months!”
Alex Harris, once again turning in an eye-catching display – albeit in the understated context of a pre-season friendly – opened the scoring for Hibs against Dumbarton.
The hosts replied immediately, with Ally McKerricher wiping out the arrears following a super assist from Mitchel Megginson. All in all, the encounter proved to be the lively, fitness-building exercise which manager Pat Fenlon desired, with European football arriving so swiftly. And barring any unforeseen setbacks, McPake should be fit to lead out the Hibees in their first European campaign since 2010.
The first leg, against either Drogheda United or Malmo, is slated for 18 July and he expects the return match a week later to be a blockbuster affair at Easter Road – assuming the tie is still alive.
“I have never played European football and we are all buzzing for it,” he added. “Everybody knows what a great venue Easter Road is when everyone is behind you. Sometimes things have not been good enough for a club of this standard, yet they are always right behind us when we need that result.
“Dunfermline [in the 2011-12 campaign], when we needed a result to stay up, springs to mind, and hanging on against Celtic last season for a 1-0 win – they dragged us over the finishing line. It is another night like that we need.
“We are looking forward to whoever we play, we know it will not be an easy tie but there is real excitement there.”
Dumbarton: Grindlay (Ewings 45); McGinn, McNiff, S Smith, Horne (Coleman 64); Phinn, Turner (Prunty 60), Agnew; K Smith, Megginson (Halsman 73), McKerracher.
Hibernian: Williams; Donaldson, Hanlon, Forster (McPake 68), Stevenson; Harris (Stanton, 73), Taiwo (Robertson 66), Tudur Jones, Craig (Horribine 83); Cairney (Caldwell 45); Handling.