Paul Hanlon: Hibs defender reflects on whirlwind week and reveals how Ryan Porteous was feeling
Sent on with 11 minutes remaining against Czech Republic, the Hibs defender - who had been called into the squad at the last minute - helped Scotand hold on to their 1-0 lead to go top of their Nations League group and extend the squad’s unbeaten run to eight games.
“I was delighted to get the call-up and join up with the boys, first and foremost, but to get on the pitch was amazing,” said Hanlon. “It’s something I’ve worked hard towards for a long time - to get in a squad and win my first cap - so I’m delighted to finally do it.
“It was right up there with my career highlights. I played a number of games with the 19s and 21s over the years but just never managed to get that senior cap - until now. It’s something that I have been desperate to do.”
‘I want to do it again’
A man who has been touted to make the step up at various intervals throughout his long career, at 30 time was running out but, like Andrew Considine, age proved no barrier to delivering the kind of solid performances Scotland have, in recent years, lacked at the back and now he is hungry for more.
“Before the game, I’d have taken just one minute on the pitch just to get my cap, but looking back I'm delighted to have come on in such a big game and contributed to a great win,” explained Hanlon.
“It just gives you a taste for it. I want to do it again. I know there is a lot of competition for places but if I can keep my form going with Hibs then there’s no reason why not.
“The manager has shown trust in me to put me on at such a vital stage of a massive game. However, I know that I need to come back to Hibs and play very well. We have started the season off well and if we can keep that going then myself, Ryan [Porteous], Paul McGinn and even someone like Kevin Nisbet - who can’t be far away - have all got a much better chance.”
Was he nervous?
He says he had not allowed his self-belief to waiver and, although he was realistic enough to accept that it might take injuries and suspensions to offer him a way in, he had always hoped that his opportunity would come.
But when he did, it was thrust on him so quickly – there was no time for nerves to take hold.
“I probably didn't think about it enough to. be honest. I just thought about getting on but once I was on the pitch, it was 'oh right, I've really got a job to do now'. The manager wanted me tucking in a bit more rather than play as an out and out wing back, dealing with cross balls. I'm just delighted to have been on the pitch and actually contributed.”
The boyhood dream will have included a raucous Hampden and the faces of his friends and family as they cheered him on. Instead, they had to watch on television as he ran out at an empty arena.
"As players we've been used to it for a number of weeks now, so I hadn't really thought of that. It was more after the game when I was speaking to my family and they said they wished they were there. But they were delighted for me. I'm delighted I got a cap but if there was a downside, it would be that no-one was there to see it."
Some familiar faces – and no resentment
However, there were members of his Hibs family there to share in the joy and excitement as defensive colleagues Ryan Porteous and Paul McGinn watched from the bench.
The former had been in the original squad and although he did not feature in any of the three games, he was invested, according to Hanlon, who denies there was any resentment at his late arrival and subsequent fast-tracking into the team.
“I don’t think he would have put his hand up to play left wing-back anyway! No, we knew that there was only one more interval for substitutions and he said to me that he was delighted that I got on. He actually said that his disappointment turned to nerves pretty quickly because he wanted me to do really well. That was nice of him.
“But, listen, his time is definitely going to come. There’s no doubt about that. He just needs to be patient. He was definitely close to playing in some of the games.”
The highs – and the lows
As a player who earned a testimonial at Hibs, as well as a Scottish Cup winners’ medal, there have also been some horrible lows. There has been relegation, missed promotions, and cup humiliation but with silverware within touching distance this term and a positive start to the league campaign under their belts, the thought of securing a place in the Scotland set up just as they make their pitch for a place at a major finals for the first time since 1998, is significant.
“It’s probably not until I left the camp, stepped back and took it all in that I realised what a vital time it was to come on, and what a big match it was. The confidence around the squad and belief everyone has in each other was great to see and be part of.
“There's obviously been harder times here and you need to dig deep and work hard, I've done that and managed to stay in the team and it's a bit rosier now. We've started the season well. It's just a start but if we can keep our form going then we'll get even more recognition."
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