Paul Hanlon can be forgiven for casting a glance elsewhere. The Hibernian player, who is celebrating his testimonial year and signed a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2022, admits that there have been times when he considered a change of scene.
During the tough times few could blame him but now, with things on the up, he feels vindicated for choosing to remain loyal.
“There have been a few times. I was out of contract after we won the Cup so I spoke to a few clubs then,” said Hanlon. “When we got relegated we all got told we were free to go and I spoke to a few people then, but that wasn’t the case in the end and I wasn’t free to go. So that was fine. There have been occasions where I have spoken to other people when I was out of contract but, for me to leave here, it would have to be something special and nothing that came up was enough to make me want to go.
“I grew up a fan of the club and I have enjoyed every minute of playing for Hibs. I’m proud to wear the strip every week. Signing a four-year contract is going to take me to 32 and a half so I don’t know if I’ll have much left after that.
“It’s just a case of trying to play well season after season and seeing where it takes you. I try not to look too far ahead. If it came to it and I played my whole career at Hibs, it’s something I’d be really proud of.”
Having signed for the club straight from school as a 16-year-old, Hanlon says this campaign has been as enjoyable as any and could yet end up proving one of the most rewarding. “It is definitely up there as one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had, just with the whole feel about the place and obviously with the performances as well,” he added. “I have been happy enough with my own performances and there is a feelgood factor around the whole club now. It is a great place to be. That is part of the reason I have committed to another four years.
“We have got a great squad just now and hopefully we will stay together for next year as well. On top of that, we have got a great manager and a great backroom staff. It all seems to be going in the right direction. I couldn’t sign the contract quick enough, to be honest.”
Fourth in the Premiership in their first season back in the top tier, they play host to Celtic this afternoon, with the Glasgow side looking for the three points that would seal their seventh successive league title. But with targets of their own, Hanlon insists they are just as keen to claim the victory in the hope that it will allow them to close the three-point gap on Rangers and Aberdeen in their quest for a second place finish.
“That is what it’s all about now,” he said. “We have put ourselves in a great position in the last five games. Hopefully we can finish second. If we do finish second, then we will have set our standards. It will then be about doing it again and again. If we finish third or fourth it will be about trying to improve on that. It will then be about maintaining it for the next few years.”
While a top-two finish may exceed their initial ambitions for this year, getting so close to it means that failure to land it now would also be a blow.
“It will be disappointing I think because we have worked closely and we have done so well to get into this position,” said Hanlon.
“But if we do finish third or fourth then, once we step back and think about it, that will still be a decent season back and a good marker for us to push on from next year.
“When we were in the Championship we spoke about us being this or being that and about being the second best team in Scotland, but this season we’ve shown we are a good side and can hold our own at this level.”