How Ronaldo, Chiellini and Pepe are inspiring Darren McGregor ahead of the table-topping clash between Hibs and Hearts and Edinburgh derby he loves: 'We are an incredible city.'

Ronaldo, aged 36, one of the greatest players of all time and still worth a mega-million pound transfer fee. Giorgio Chiellini, aged 37, and a key part of Italy’s Euros success. Pepe, 38, a European champion with club and country who played every minute of Portugal’s Euro 2020 matches before they were ousted at the last 16 stage. Just three of many top players proving that age is just a number.

Hibs’ Darren McGregor lists them off and, while he may not operate at the same level, the 36 year-old does have at least one thing in common with those household names - an unquenchable desire to extend his playing years beyond the accepted norm.

And there are very good reasons for that. One is the simple fact that he likes what he does and the lure of games such as Sunday’s trip to Tynecastle for the first capital derby of the season contribute hugely to that. Two is the fact that when he does eventually look back on his career he wants the video reel of memories that will flicker through his mind to feature his kids as VIP onlookers.

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“That is one of the big things for me. I want to stay at Hibs and try to play as much as I can, even although it’s tough with two very good centre-halves ahead of me and another on the way, because I would love to give Max and Ray that memory of me, playing for Hibs.”

Hibs' Darren McGregor celebrates victory over derby rivals Hearts in the Leith side's most recent trip to Tynecastle, in 2019. Photo by Craig Williamson/SNSHibs' Darren McGregor celebrates victory over derby rivals Hearts in the Leith side's most recent trip to Tynecastle, in 2019. Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS
Hibs' Darren McGregor celebrates victory over derby rivals Hearts in the Leith side's most recent trip to Tynecastle, in 2019. Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS

Along with elder sister Mila, who is six, four year-old Max and Ray, who turns two in a matter of weeks, will sit out this weekend’s trip to Gorgie with McGregor admitting that by the time they are old enough for that kind of brash, entrenched match-day atmosphere he may be the one sitting alongside them in the stands, but they incentivise him to delay thoughts of retirement.

“When I was young, I didn’t have that person to take me along to games. I have been fortunate enough to play in a few at Tynecastle and can only imagine being fortunate enough as a youngster to be taken along by your dad to watch and experience the atmosphere. What a thrill that would’ve been. So, in years to come I will take Max and Ray along.

“It wasn’t that long ago that they were babies but now they are getting older and getting to the years when you do have vague memories.

“It would be great if they could remember seeing me playing for Hibs and not just from watching on tv. The idea that they could look back when they are older and say ‘I remember my dad running out at Easter Road’ is absolutely massive for me and one of the main reasons I am willing to explore any little thing that will help me get another five per cent, even one per cent out of my game, and allow me to keep doing what I do.”

On for Porteous. Kept things tight at the back.On for Porteous. Kept things tight at the back.
On for Porteous. Kept things tight at the back.

McGregor’s own father did not follow football, which meant that while he and his Hibs-supporting mates often sneaked into Easter Road for matches, including the derbies, his first trip across the city for that particular fixture was as part of a HIbs side en route to Scottish Cup ecstasy.

Boasting a record of 13 capital head-to-heads, with just three defeats among them, that 2016 Scottish Cup fifth round tie, which ended in stalemate in Gorgie but was settled days later in Hibs’ favour as they powered through to lift that trophy three months later, was a heady introduction for the centre-half.

A man who thrives on the passion, the rivalry, the pressure and the very fine line between ecstasy and agony, the fact Jack Ross’ side head to Tynecastle aware that whoever wins will top the Premiership table only heightens the stakes.

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“For us to have fans there is an added bonus. We are lucky to have fans back, full stop, after the pandemic but to have them at the derby, that gives it something extra.

Scotsman sports writers byline picsScotsman sports writers byline pics
Scotsman sports writers byline pics

“The last time we played them [at Hampden, in the delayed 2019/20 cup semi final] there was nobody there but it will still be sore in a lot of fans’ minds, and ours, so this is a chance of redemption. I have always enjoyed going there and we have always tended to play well so it will be great.

“I’ve told the boys who haven’t played there before that they’ll not experience a better atmosphere, maybe in their whole career. As a Hibs player, it’s the number one fixture over every other fixture because you know the rivalry and how much it means to the fans. Getting an away win at Tynecastle is one of the best feelings you will ever get in a Hibs jersey.”

Driving team-mates on, making demands, carrying everyone along on a tidal wave of intoxicating McGregor intensity, his personality, his mindset and leadership qualities are all perfectly suited to an occasion he simply gets.

It means he has no qualms confessing his delight that Hearts survived both their financial difficulties and their recent demotion and are back tussling with Hibs at the top.

“It is great to see both sides doing well and to have top of the table clashes. I love that rivalry. We are the capital city, an unbelievable city in its own right, so to have two vibrant, well-supported teams just makes it even more special.”

But, when it comes to sorting out the bragging rights, McGregor has to satisfy his nearest and dearest. When his kids look back on daddy’s biggest games, he wants them to be inspired.

“Max loves football and he’s got the strips and the wee boots.” He also has ambitions.

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“He keeps on telling me he is going to play with Hibs and Scotland. Don’t want to be a pushy parent but I’m going to hold him to that!”

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