Darren McGregor hadn’t scored in a while. Not since last season’s Premiership play-off semi-final against Falkirk, in fact, and everyone at Easter Road remembers how that particular episode played out.
So this time, on a Friday night outing to the cinema with some mates for the new Fast and Furious movie, the central defender thought he’d try something different. Result: he nets a double and finally his team get promoted, a particularly sweet outcome for the man who is Hibees through and through. “I wouldn’t normally eat Pick n Mix before a game but one of the boys came back with an extra-large carton,” McGregor revealed. “He spent about 15 quid so since I was going to have to sit next to him for two hours, I decided to help him get rid of it.
“Maybe these Cola Bottles gave me the glycogen levels I needed but I was really determined out there. It’s a brilliant feeling to help get this club back where it belongs. To do it in front of 17,000 fans, who’ve been unbelievable all season, is fantastic.”
So Hibs have followed the Scottish Cup with a return to the Premiership. That might suggest a fundamental makeover of the club’s psychological profile but McGregor admitted that, as they strove to kick open the escape hatch after three seasons in the division below, old doubts hadn’t entirely disappeared.
“Obviously we’ve been dragging our heels these last four of five weeks,” he said of the Leith team’s stuttering sequence of draws. “You might not have noticed but honestly there was apprehension. Even when you’re nine points ahead, because you’re only human, you think of the worst-case scenario. Well, maybe not everyone would but I did! We were just so desperate to get over the line.”
McGregor was a popular choice for headline-grabber on the decisive day. He’s the club’s player of the year with his own song, about how he never gives the ball away.
Really, he’s a poster boy for never giving up, of overcoming serious injuries, spells in the Juniors, a term at Cowdenbeath and being cast off by Rangers before finally getting the chance to pull on the green and white shirt of his boyhood heroes, becoming a cup immortal along the way.
“I was determined to score,” he said. “I hadn’t done for 30-odd games and was getting a bit of stick. I knew I had the potential, I just had to up my game.” His first came after a back-post run and angled header from a John McGinn free-kick. “I told John as he was lining it up to ping the ball to the back stick. I just felt there was something in me, that I would score. His great delivery made the goal.
“There was another great delivery, from a corner by Jason [Cummings], for the second. I caught it with the outside of my right foot.
“The boys are saying it was a clearance but I’m taking full credit. It’s a team effort but to contribute like this in front of all the fans is right up there as a moment for me.”
McGregor could have bagged a hat-trick. Or rather, he was turning up in what for him were eccentric, advanced positions, seeking out a third goal.
“The boys asked me at half-time if we got a penalty, would I take it? Probably the fear would have kicked in. Aye, if I’d tried to dink it like Jason [the howler of a miss in last year’s Scottish Cup semi] I would have kicked my other foot and fallen over.” In the end the third goal, from another set-piece, went to another defender, captain David Gray.
McGregor, the lad from Leith Walk who used to sneak into Easter Road for free and once worked in a boutique, flogging designer jeans to Hibs players, still can’t believe it’s now him out there on the park.
“Folk ask me what it means to be a Hibs supporter doing this and I’ve never been able to sum it up in a couple of lines. I pinch myself every day that I’m in this situation.
“To end up here after leaving Rangers was a great achievement for me. Winning the Scottish Cup was massive. Now to get promoted with the club I’ve always followed – I’m on cloud nine. I’m still trying to take it all in. I’ve got such a hunger and a desire to do well for the club and the fans, who include my family and all my mates.
“It goes without saying these have been the two best years of my career. As a boy growing up you play jumpers-for-goalposts dreaming of winning cups and leagues.
“But to do it for the club I’ve supported, giving the road I’ve travelled – I’m just so thankful every time I step onto the pitch.”