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Teenage Grof makes his own piece of history

FEW teenagers pay much attention to the advice offered by their parents, so it will come as no surprise to discover Hibs youngster David Grof paid little heed to that given by his father.

A veteran of a goalkeeping career which stretched to 20 years as he pulled on the gloves for Hungarian clubs such as Vasas Budapest, Ujpest Doza, Videoton, Honved and a spell in Austria, Atilla Grof repeatedly implored his son not to follow in his footsteps.

The counsel tendered was based solely on his intention to protect his offspring from the sort of experiences every goalkeeper suffers, the spectacular, breathtaking saves made may outnumber the occasional gaffe, but it is those howlers which will be remembered forever.

But any misgivings Grof senior may have had over his son pursuing a career "between the sticks" disappeared in one excited telephone call from Edinburgh in the early hours of Friday morning following 19-year-old David's appearance against Spanish giants Barcelona.

It may only have been a cameo performance at Murrayfield, Grof replacing Andy McNeil for the final ten minutes, but it was one which was viewed avidly back in the family home in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, Atilla, wife Mary and 16-year-old brother Robert watching via the internet – and it prompted an animated chat between father and son.

Grof said: "Mixu Paatelainen had told me before the game to be prepared because I wasn't just going to be a substitute against Barcelona, that he'd be putting me on at some stage. I told my family I'd be playing and they watched on the internet, they were very excited. Afterwards I called my father about 1am, I don't think he was too bothered about getting a call at that time and we chatted away for ages. He was really happy, I think he was over the moon."

Father and son, however, may never have got the chance for that early morning chat if young Grof had heeded the advice given to him as a youngster. He said: "My Dad didn't want me to become a goalkeeper and have to go through everything playing the position brings.

"He knew the pressures, make one mistake and you are pilloried and have the finger of blame pointed at you. People tend to remember the errors and not the great saves you pull off."

A huge smile breaks over his face as he answers the inevitable follow-up question: "Yes, I saw my Dad suffer a few howlers but every goalkeeper makes mistakes. I've known that since I was a little boy, but it did not stop me.

"From the age of one or two I went to all of my father's games, in fact my Mum tells me I took my first steps at the stadium he was playing in that day.

"All I ever wanted to be was a goalie, never an outfield player."

Grof was already a Hungarian youth internationalist when his agent alerted both Hibs and Hearts to his client's abilities, resulting in trials at both clubs at the age of 16 although Grof revealed today he set his heart on a career at Easter Road almost immediately.

He said: "Tony Mowbray was manager but John Park (then Hibs academy director] and Alistair Stevenson (academy coach] played a big part in me coming here. I just felt it was the right place for me and everyone was very friendly and made me feel so welcome.

"I had just turned 17 when I signed for Hibs and it was a big thing leaving home and coming to Edinburgh. It was really hard at first, my English wasn't very good and I couldn't really talk to anyone which made it all the harder.

"Back home I was a mummy's boy but here there was no mum or dad, I had to grow up very quickly."

Although he is entering his third season at Easter Road, Thursday night was the first chance many Hibs fans would have had to see Grof in action although he has taken a seat on the bench for SPL matches on a number of occasions. And now, naturally, he has his eyes on becoming Paatelainen's first-choice although he is well aware he has both McNeil and Belgian Under-21 internationalist Yves Ma-Kalambay currently on Olympic duty in China, ahead of him in the pecking order. He said: "It's difficult being a goalkeeper, as a young outfield player you can be given the chance to go on and gain experience by playing in different positions. But for guys like me there is only one position. Like Yves and Andy I want to play in the first team but only one of us can do that any given week.

"You have to be patient and you also need luck. But I didn't come all this way to fail, I came here wanting to be Hibs' No.1 goalkeeper and that remains my aim."

To that end Paatelainen has suggested Grof spend a year on loan elsewhere to gain first team experience before returning to Easter Road for the final season of his current contract. It's an idea he is willing to consider, revealing he has already counselled former Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon over such a move. He said: "I know Craig from the time I was on trial at Hearts. He went to Cowdenbeath on loan and came back to be Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper so perhaps the same thing could work for me.

"I spoke to the gaffer a few weeks ago about a loan move and there were a couple of offers but at the end of the day he said 'no' to those clubs. If he thinks going elsewhere and perhaps getting 30 or 35 first team games under my belt is the best thing for me then I'll do that."

If Hibs fans may think it strange that one of their goalkeepers should take advice from the former Hearts No.1, Grof revealed he's also friendly with current Tynecastle goalie Steve Banks. He laughed: "It's the old goalkeepers' union thing, we may play for different clubs but we are all goalies and we stick together because we know the problems playing that position brings."

Grof has his own international ambitions, the next step being to emulate his father by playing for Hungary's Under-21 side, admitting even ten minutes against Barcelona can do nothing but further his case.

He said: "I've played for our Under-17 and Under-19 sides to hopefully this next season I'll step up again. Hungary don't really send people abroad to watch players so I have to keep the coaches up-to-date by sending back DVDs although the most important thing for me is to make the Hibs first team before I can think about my international career."

The Hungarian Football Federation will undoubtedly receive a DVD of Grof's performance against Barcelona although he admitted he was disappointed not to be tested by a side which had hammered six goals past the blameless McNeil as the Lionel Messi-inspired Spaniards turned in a five-star display. He said: "I was desperate to get on and although I was a little nervous I just forget about who I was playing against. Our goalkeeping coach Gordon Marshall told me to just play my game, but that's something I have been doing all my life.

"Few youngsters will be able to say they made their first team debut against Barcelona but that's something both Jordan Cropley and I will be able to boast in years to come. I was a little disappointed I didn't get any saves to make, I wanted to show the fans what I could do.

"I didn't want the game to end, Barcelona are such a great side you could watch them all night. It was a great experience."

And as yet another grin split his face, he added: "Who knows, I'll maybe forget I only played ten minutes and tell people I kept a shut-out against Barcelona on my debut. A clean sheet is a clean sheet after all."

 
 
 

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