BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hibs stalwart Paul Hanlon readily admits he could never dream of crossing the Edinburgh divide – however he has backed new teammate James Keatings to win over the fans following his arrival from Hearts.
The 23-year-old notched 11 goals for the Jambos during their march to the Championship title last season but was deemed surplus to requirements by head coach Robbie Neilson ahead of their tilt at the top flight.
Keatings raised plenty of eyebrows by securing his release from Hearts before immediately penning a two-year deal at Easter Road.
However, Hanlon, who concedes he was stunned to see Keatings dumped by the Tynecastle club, believes his Gorgie pedigree will be forgotten the moment he ripples the net for Hibs.
He said: “I don’t imagine it would be easy crossing Edinburgh, although I don’t know because I can’t even imagine playing for Hearts! But all it takes is a couple of goals for us and the Hibs fans will be right behind him.
“I was surprised James was allowed to leave Hearts but hopefully he can bang in the goals for us. A lot of times last season we dominated games and it was the fine margin of putting the ball in the net.
“It doesn’t matter that he has come from Hearts – If he can help us get to the Premiership then all the better. His record speaks for itself at Hearts. He found himself out of the team a lot but still had a great scoring record so I’m really excited about him signing.”
Hibs have also snapped up Dan Carmichael and Martin Boyle ahead of another promotion push next term, however Hanlon reckons the most important arrival could be yet to come.
With the club working hard to agree a new deal with towering centre-back Liam Fontaine, Hanlon is desperate to renew his partnership with the former Bristol City man at the heart of defence.
The 25-year-old continued: “I loved playing with him last season and I felt we formed a good pairing. I’m looking forward to hopefully keeping that going.
“It’s a good thing as a central defender to have a proper connection and when they’re not in it for themselves.
“It can show on the pitch, and playing with Liam is one of my favourite partnerships. He’s been down south with his family over the summer but and the club are keen to keep him and hopefully it happens.”
It would be an exaggeration to say Hibs are already prepared for the upcoming campaign, given they do not even have a senior goalkeeper on their books.
However, compared to Rangers’ complete lack of anything resembling a playing squad and their installation of a new manager, there can be little doubt which of the title rivals are in better shape as they report for pre-season training.
While the proof will be in the pudding on August 22 when Hibs visit Ibrox, Hanlon hopes Rangers struggle to get their house in order in the early stages of the season – just as the Hibees did last year.
He said: “At the start of last season we were in a bit of a mess. We had hardly any players and the manager was trying to put a squad together and it took a while for us to get going.
“We all bought into the manager’s ideas and loved the way he was wanting us to play right from the start. It was just the players getting to know each other which took time.
“Hopefully it is Rangers who suffer a bit from that this season and they are the ones doing their business late.”