Hibs’ Jake Doyle-Hayes required surgery in October after a 50-50 challenge with gaffer Lee Johnson inflamed a dormant but pre-existing injury. It has limited his game-time but the Irishman refuses to hold a grudge. Finally returning to the starting line-up in the final game before the international break, against Celtic, the midfielder is hoping he has timed things nicely as the club look to finish the season strongly and push for a European spot. It would be a bright end to a difficult season.
“There was a bit of a coming together in training with the manager but it happens and it could have been any of the lads,” said Doyle-Hayes. “It was a tackle, a 50-50 and nobody holds back in training so it wasn’t an issue. We train with intensity. The gaffer doesn’t join in a lot – I don’t think he has joined in since! He apologised, said it was an accident but I knew that anyway. It was nobody’s fault, he didn’t mean it.”
According to doctors, the manager did not inflict the initial damage. His meaty challenge only exacerbated it. “I didn’t really know I had the injury,” admitted Doyle-Hayes. “When I got the scan they said it could have been an old injury. I had been carrying it for a while, they reckoned. I’m just looking to get my season started now, really, even though there are not many games left.”
A testing campaign already, his time on the sidelines has allowed others to stake a strong claim for the midfield berths. It was surprising therefore that even when other offers came in throughout the January transfer window, he opted to stay in Edinburgh, where his partner Aurelija and five-month old son Arlo are settled, and fight for involvement.
“It was good to hear the gaffer saying he wanted to keep me,” Doyle-Hayes continued. “I want to play for this club. It’s an unbelievable feeling being a dad for the first time, and having them in the stands – it gives you extra motivation. It’s strange coming back into the team at this stage, but you just have to do everything you can to get up to speed.
“I feel fit now, I have played in bounce games and played against Celtic. I felt good after that. Hopefully I can keep my place because there are more big games coming up, we want to get enough points to get into the European places. We believe we can kick on further this season. But that means picking up wins in games like this weekend. Hopefully we can pick up the momentum we had before the Celtic and Rangers games.”
One point behind fourth-placed Aberdeen and five adrift of Hearts in third, there is still plenty to play for, according to the 24-year-old. “We talked about Europe being one of our goals at the start of the season,” Doyle-Hayes added. “Not getting there last year was a disappointment for us so we want to do it this time around. All we can do is focus on ourselves and try to win as many games as possible, there’s no point looking at the other teams around us.”