Hibs: Ian Murray will show mettle
The Easter Road star knew he was walking a tightrope as the race for a place in the Europa League went down to the wire, well aware one more yellow card would push him over the SFA's disciplinary points limit and out of the start of the new campaign.
The inevitable booking came in the final Edinburgh derby but, strangely enough, Murray today confessed to being happy it had come in that game rather than a week earlier.
He explained: "It was at the back of my mind that I was on the verge of a suspension and the way the system works had I been booked against Rangers rather than a week later in the derby, I'd have missed the final two games of the season.
"Those matches, of course, were against Motherwell and Dundee United and, as we all now know, were crucial games so, in a strange way, I wasn't too disappointed the booking came against Hearts rather than earlier."
The utility man, however, was well aware he'd be missing the start of the new season but, with the suspension applying only to SPL matches, it allowed him to reap the rewards of last season's efforts, facing Slovenian side NK Maribor in what, unfortunately, was a short-lived Euro campaign before sitting out the league games against Motherwell and Rangers.
As frustrating as it has been, it's a situation Murray has become accustomed to in recent years, this being the third season in succession he's missed the start because of suspension, a scenario which, he insisted, was a consequence of the "totting up" process applied by the SFA, on familiar to many players and defenders in particular.
He said: "There's not much you can do about it as bookings tend to mount up over the course of a season and sometimes you just have to take a wee hit. Perhaps if the final few games didn't mean too much the manager might decide to rest you to avoid the chance of going over the limit and missing the start of the new season by giving a young player or someone who perhaps hadn't played too much a game.
"But we really didn't have much room for manoeuvre as the fight for Europe went right down to the wire with fourth and fifth places not decided until the final day of the season.
"Not being available for the opening games is something I've had in each of the last three years but hopefully I can start next season with a clean sheet."
With his two-match suspension now over, Murray is eagerly looking forward to Sunday's match against St Mirren in Paisley, well aware that Danny Lennon's side will be desperate, as will Hibs, to get back on track following a disappointing week which saw them crushed 4-0 by Celtic before crashing out of the Co-operative Insurance Cup in a penalty shoot-out against Ross County.
For their part, Hibs are still smarting from their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Rangers following an opening day win over Motherwell, boss John Hughes' plans hit by an automatic one-match ban for midfielder Kevin McBride following his red card last weekend while right back Michael Hart has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Their absence will obviously open the door for Murray's return as Hughes is forced to shuffle the pack but the opportunity, if selected, is one the former Rangers and Norwich City star is determined to take.
He said: "I'd prepared myself for someone coming into the team while I was out, playing well and earning the right to keep the jersey. It's been difficult, a bit stop-start being able to play against Maribor and then missing the next two.
"However, I got sixty minutes in a reserve match against Sunderland on Wednesday (a 0-0 draw] and, as any player will say, you can train as much as you want but there's nothing like playing games.
"Hopefully, I'll be picked on Sunday but whoever plays we know it's going to be a difficult match as we know from our last few games through there. By all accounts, St Mirren gave Dundee United a good game on the opening day of the season and were a bit unlucky to concede late on.
"Like ourselves, they had a disappointing result last weekend and now they've gone out of the League Cup to Ross County although no-one needs to tell us how tricky it can be making that long journey to Dingwall.
"But I'm sure there will be a bit of excitement round St Mirren Park with Danny Lennon new to the job, new players having been brought in and the game live on television. Having said that, hopefully they'll be feeling a little bit vulnerable."
Murray didn't find himself idle for long, however, despite his suspension as he turned his hand to commentating as he worked for Hibernian Television during the Rangers clash, an experience he admitted he rather enjoyed although he was wary of falling out with his team-mates.
He said: "It can be difficult commentating on your mates, I tried not to be too negative or too overboard, just to give my honest view on what I was watching even although it was Hibs TV. For example, I didn't feel Kyle Lafferty deserved a red card.
"It was a bit different watching from high in the stands seeing mistakes being made which lets you understand how the fans get frustrated at times.
"I thought it was a good game although, obviously, the final scoreline was bitterly disappointing from our point-of-view. I felt that up to half-time and for the first ten minutes after the interval we were the better side.
"Rangers were always going to get a chance and when they got it they took it and then there was a ten-minute spell when it all went wrong for us, including those injuries to Michael and Derek Riordan. However, Sunday gives us the opportunity to get back to winning ways and after it we have two winnable games at home to look forward to."
Before then, Murray will find his season again put on hold as the SPL is suspended for Scotland's double-header against Lithuania and Liechtenstein as part of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.
He said: "It will be disappointing to have another two-week break but it will help someone like Michael who has an injury to overcome."
n THE exhibition being staged by the Hibernian Historical Trust tracing the development of Easter Road from 1893 to the present day will be open to supporters tomorrow from 2.30pm to 4.30pm. Admission to the West Stand is free.