Describing him as “one of the most underrated centre-backs in the league”, Hibernian manager Jack Ross says he is surprised that Paul Hanlon has not been capped by Scotland.
While other members of the Easter Road squad have been called into international squads around the globe, the long-term Hibs servant has failed to convince a succession of Scotland bosses that he is up to the challenge.
To a certain extent Ross, inset, can see why, admitting that while he always considered him a good player, he has had his eyes opened wide since he started to work closely with him.
“I’ve said often enough, you really don’t know what players are like until you work with them every single day. I’m loath to say he’s a ‘better’ player than I thought, in case that makes it sound like I didn’t realise he was a good player but I have just been impressed by his all-round ability. He’s just a really good footballer.
“Regardless of what we are doing on the training pitch, he is comfortable, his understanding of the game is very good and his technique is good. He’s the ideal player in many ways: low maintenance, high output. If you had a squad of players like that it’d be fantastic.”
Far from flashy, on or off the pitch, he has still marshalled a defence that has yet to concede a goal from open play this term.
That backline has provided the foundation for an unbeaten run of results that has taken them joint top of the table after five games and their happy manager says that maintaining that level of performance could finally elevate the 30-year-old, who started out as a full-back but says he was always intent on moving into the central role he has made his own.
“Am I surprised he hasn’t been capped for Scotland? Yes, especially when you look at his longevity at Hibs, what he has achieved in terms of personal accolades and as part of the team,” Ross added.
“Having worked with him day-in, day-out, Paul is a really good player, maybe one of the most underrated centre-backs in the league. Maybe that’s because he has been around for so long – in terms of the games he has played, rather than age because he’s certainly not old.
“His performance level for me has been terrific and if he continues to do that then he gives himself the potential for that [Scotland debut] to happen in the future.”
He’s a player who has remained loyal to the club where he made his breakthrough more than a dozen years ago, but although that has brought him moments to savour, there have been times when club fortunes possibly proved detrimental to his personal ambitions.
Stoical, he sees Scott McKenna and Declan Gallagher being named in Steve Clarke’s latest squad for the vital Nations League games, and points to the fact they have been performing in teams pushing at the higher echelons of the Premiership and picking up European experience, while he has been playing in a side which has often been up and down.
Which is why he is cautiously-enthused by the start Hibs have made to the current campaign and the fact that their form has been better than any side outwith Celtic and Rangers since Ross joined the club. It augurs well for a positive season and one which may encourage the national gaffer to take heed.
“Yeah, if you look at those two in particular, they have been challenging at the top end of the league, Aberdeen especially, for a number of years,” Hanlon said. “So, if I can get up there with Hibs then I will have a better chance of getting in these squads.
“I have definitely not given up on that. It is still an ambition to get in that squad and get a cap but if we can keep our standards high and Hibs are third or fourth in the league, challenging at the top end, then I have a much better chance. I will just keep working hard at Hibs and hopefully one day a call up will come along.”
Today’s guests at Easter Road, Aberdeen, are the benchmark in so many ways, with Ross an admirer of his Pittodrie counterpart, as a manager and a man.
“Derek is someone who has been very, very good to me since I started managing. Back when I was at Alloa I had Scott McKenna on loan for a very brief period. I went to St Mirren and had Cammy Smith on loan. And we’ve had a lot of general conversations.
“He spent a long time on the phone to me after I lost my job at Sunderland because obviously he went through a similar experience with Bristol City. So, from a managerial point of view, he has helped me.
“And again, what he has achieved, it’s maybe a bit like Paul [Hanlon], the longer you are at some place, that success maybe gets taken for granted, but I have the utmost respect for him.
“In terms of what they have done consistently, Aberdeen are the standard-bearers for that, absolutely. You can’t ignore what Derek has done over a number of years. To churn those results out year-after-year, despite losing players and having to rebuild teams, and being relentless in qualifying for Europe and being in the latter stages of cups, is outstanding.
“That’s what we need to strive for.”
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