Paul Hanlon feared he would be denied his chance at Hampden redemption when a rare injury complication threatened to end his season.
The defender is in line to make his third appearance at the national stadium within the last 12 months when Hibs face Falkirk in the Scottish Cup semi-final on Saturday. The tie comes just in time for Hanlon, who completed his recovery by playing 90 minutes in the defeat at Celtic Park last weekend.
It was the first match since the end of January in which the under-21 internationalist performed his duties without constant pain. In a match against Aberdeen, an innocuous challenge with Gavin Rae resulted in the Hibs defender limping away with a sore hip and what appeared to be a routine dead leg. However, the swelling on the injury would not subside and, after a few weeks, the pain was still affecting his game.
Eventually, the club sent the player for a scan, which revealed that his body had begun producing calcium to fight the injury, which formed bone on the joint.
“The physios and doctors said it was really rare,” said Hanlon. “I mean, how many dead legs do you get over the course of a season? They said the same thing could happen hundreds of times without that happening.
“There was a constant swelling there that just wouldn’t go away. And the longer I played on, the more restricted I started to feel with my movement.
“I was told to sit in my house for four weeks and basically do nothing. I could go out but I had to make sure I did nothing too strenuous. So, because I had time on my hands, I looked up the injury on Google. The worst-case scenario said I could be out for as long as eight months. That obviously meant the rest of the season, and the cup final if we were to get there.
“I was desperate to go down and see the specialist in London to try and get to the bottom of it. When I went, I was just hoping he would be able to have an answer, although, at first, they were just as puzzled as I was. Eventually, they told me to rest completely and prescribed anti-inflammatories. So all I could do was hope the tablets did their job.
“Thankfully they did, but they were so strong there were days I couldn’t even open the curtains.”
For Hanlon and the club, this cup run has been about forcing another opportunity of Scottish Cup glory after last year’s campaign ended in such disaster with the derby final defeat by Hearts.
The defender was one of six current Hibs players that featured that afternoon and shares their determination to atone for their mistakes of the past.
“We’re all desperate to make up for what happened there last year,” added Hanlon. “It’s not often you get the chance to play in a cup final and this could be our second in two years. So, for the boys who played last year, it’s a chance to try and put things right. We’ve shown great determination to get to this stage.
“Falkirk are a good team. I actually went to see them at Livingston earlier this season and I was impressed. They’re a good passing team. But Hampden is a big pitch and we’ll be ready for them.”