JAMES McPake has vowed to lead Hibernian into Europe next month after rubbishing rumours he could be forced into hanging up his boots because of the back injury that kept him out of the Scottish Cup final.
The Easter Road skipper was forced to sit out the final four weeks of the season after a recurring back problem resurfaced and has since found himself at the centre of wild speculation amongst some supporters that he he was on the verge of quitting the game due to the on- going troubles.
The 28-year-old has previously admitted he feared for his future in the game after fracturing three bones in his spine and being ruled out for the best part of ten months while at previous club Coventry City.
Following the most recent flare-up of his back pain it was thought the Bellshill-born Northern Ireland international could require an operation to try and ease the problems.
However, following consultation with a specialist, it has been decided surgery is not required following a season in which the former Livingston player still managed 32 starts for Hibs – a record only bettered by four team-mates.
Now, following the bitter blow of missing out on the 3-0 Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic, McPake is desperate to restore himself to full fitness ahead of the kick-off to the Europa League qualifiers on 18 July.
With a thrilling few weeks due to be crowned by the birth of his first child in August, McPake said: “I’m aiming to be back fit and back in training when pre-season starts, so that I’m up to speed when the matches start. It promises to be an exciting season for Hibs, with the Europa League qualifiers, and we will also be looking to build on last season in the SPL. I’m enjoying a brief summer holiday at the moment before the start of pre-season and I’m also looking forward to becoming a dad for the first time in August.”
Following internet chat of his possible retirement, he added: “Some friends have been in touch with me recently about these rumours, but they aren’t true – I haven’t had an operation and I’m not planning to have one.
“My main aim now is to put everything I can into making Hibernian successful next season and give our inspirational supporters something to cheer about.”
McPake was given until just 48 hours before the cup final to try and prove his fitness after being sidelined for the previous four weeks following the 3-3 draw with St Mirren on 27 April.
Just one exchange of looks was all it took between the captain and manager Pat Fenlon to indicate his bid to lead the team out at Hampden had failed.
However, the committed stopper is determined to look forward and spearhead another season of progress for the capital outfit.
He said: “It was a massive disappointment to miss out on the cup final. I thought I’d done enough to make myself available for selection.
“But then in the week leading up to the final I experienced another set-back. It was really tough to take because I would have loved to have led the team out at Hampden.
“Now I’m focusing all my energy on coming back stronger and helping the team next season – improving on what we did last year and making more progress.”
Meanwhile, Hibs, who will unveil their new Nike home kit this morning, have reached an agreement with Livingston to play their under-20s matches next season at Almondvale.