McCormack vows to put his career at Hibs first

HIBS kid Darren McCormack today revealed how he's determined to put a troubled past behind him as he battles to become the local boy who made good.

The highly-rated defender, who turned down the chance of a move to Celtic as he committed his long-term future to Easter Road, has found himself making headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past year. A Saturday night punch thrown at Hearts striker Callum Elliot earned the 21-year-old a court appearance as did a further scrape with the law when he was caught driving while twice over the limit.

Fines in both instances and a driving ban inevitably followed as did further punishment by Hibs with McCormack apologising not only for letting himself down by tarnishing the club's good name.

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Today, though, it's a period McCormack is anxious to consign to the history books, adamant future headlines will occupy the back pages of newspapers rather than the front.

Naturally McCormack isn't keen to dwell on his misdemeanours, a red card as he retaliated in kind to a head butt from Hearts star Ruben Palazuelos in an Easter Road derby another incident he'd rather forget although that action brought no further retribution from boss John Hughes, who recognised the Spaniard was the instigator and his player had merely reacted in the heat of the moment.

Nonetheless, the lifelong Hibs fan – he was brought up in Lochend – recognises his profession merely serves to magnify the magnitude of any indiscretion.

He said: "If you do something as a football player suddenly the spotlight is on you and it becomes headline news in a way it wouldn't be if it was any other young guy.

"But you learn from your mistakes and I have learned the hard way.

"I've been keeping myself to myself, training away, keeping my head down.

"I don't want to go too far into it, but it is football first.

"I have to show I can be more responsible. I don't go out any more, it's just me, my girlfriend and my dog. I don't go uptown any more, I've been tee-total for the past two months."

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It won't come as a surprise to anyone to learn part of McCormack's rehabilitation included a heart-to-heart with Hughes, who admits to seeing a bit of his younger self in the young star.

He said: We've all been there, young lads, head-strong and thinking you can fight the world. It's just a case of being pointed in the right direction and in football it has to be a case of living the game 24/7."

McCormack's reward for his attitude in recent weeks was his first start since that sending-off three months ago, pitched in to face Celtic and the threat of Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady.

And although he was the first to recognise it was probably a lengthy injury list which included skipper Chris Hogg, Paul Hanlon, Kevin McCann, David Wotherspoon, Kevin McBride and Merouane Zemmama and forced Hughes to reshuffle his back four, which afforded him the opportunity, McCormack is determined to seize the chance.

Having, in the estimation of Hughes done himself "no harm whatsoever" with his display against the Hoops, despite the disappointment of losing to a contentious Robbie Keane penalty, McCormack said: "I knew we had a lot of injuries and thought I might be in with a shout. But there wasn't a whisper until I reported to the ground and was told about 75 minutes before kick-off I'd be playing.

"It was simply a case of getting changed and getting our there for the warm-up. It's part and parcel of the job, as a professional you train every day and have to be ready to play whenever you are asked."

McCormack, understandably, felt a little ring rusty in the opening phase of the match, one mistake serving as a wake-up call as he found himself caught in possession by McGeady with team-mate Steven Thicot stepping in before any damage could be inflicted.

He said: "Perhaps I should just have hooked the ball clear but you don't get much time against Celtic, especially in those opening 15 or 20 minutes. I didn't get a shout but you have to pay attention to the fundamentals first.

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"I felt a bit rusty for the first 20 or 25 minutes as it was my first SPL game since the derby but I found my feet and played better although I thought that, along with the rest of the team my touch and passing could have been better, quicker and sharper, although I felt more comfortable on the ball in the second half."

If he had little time to think about what lay ahead, McCormack insisted the thought of facing the trickery of McGeady didn't faze him in the slightest, having come up against the Celtic star on previous occasions.

McGeady did have an impact on the game, referee Charlie Richmond pointing to the spot as he adjudged Hibs striker Anthony Stokes to have been guilty of a high boot on the Celtic star as he attempted a clearance inside his own penalty area, Hibs boss Hughes adamant the whistler over-reacted when an indirect free-kick should have sufficed.

Otherwise, McCormack claimed, he could be pretty satisfied in taming the mercurial winger.

He said: "Okay, he won their penalty but otherwise I thought he was pretty quiet.

"I've played against him a few times now and he likes to come inside onto his right and whip it so I made sure I showed him the line. When he did come inside I felt I matched him, forced the pass and he didn't get any shots in."

Nevertheless, it was McGeady and his team-mates who ended up with smiles on their faces come the final whistle while Hughes's players were left to contemplate a run which has now seen them win just twice in 12 matches, a dramatic transformation in their fortunes since McCormack's last appearance when they had suffered just one defeat in 13 games.

Like everyone else, McCormack admits to being at a loss as to just what has gone wrong although he believes the final scoreline against Celtic was harsh on Hibs as have other results recently.

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He said: "It was disappointing considering how much we put into the game.

"Other than the penalty I don't feel they were too much of a threat. But that's the way it is, sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn't.

"We got off to a flier this season but somewhere along the line we've stopped picking up results.

"That's what makes football such a strange game.

"When you are winning everything seems to go your way, when that stops nothing happens for you.

"Look at Sunday, Derek Riordan hits a tremendous volley which on another day would have gone in.

"Instead it hits the bar and, instead of it coming down to Colin Nish who was waiting for the rebound, it goes over."

The defeat again reduced Hibs' hopes of overhauling Dundee United in third place, although McCormack insisted that has to remain the goal while he has an added personal target of staying in the side for the final six matches of the season.

He said: "We have to try to pick up from where we left off on Sunday. United are going well and it is going to be difficult to catch them but, as I have said, football is a strange game and things can quickly turn around as we know all too well ourselves.

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"For me I want to play in all six but, of course, that's up to the gaffer."