BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Gratitude may seem like an odd emotion for Darren McGregor to express towards Mark Warburton, given the arrival of the new Rangers manager saw him go from the club’s Player of the Year last season to utterly surplus to requirements this term.
Nevertheless, Hibernian’s latest recruit was moved to commend Warburton’s candour after amicably agreeing to depart Ibrox, allowing the proud Leither to fulfil a boyhood dream.
McGregor, 30, failed play a single minute under the new man at the helm at Rangers, with the centre-back pairing of Rob Keirnan and Danny Wilson excelling and James Tavernier enjoying sensational form at right-back.
He acknowledges that Warburton would have been well within his rights to keep him on the books in Govan as capable cover for his first-choice defenders. Instead, forthright talks ended with McGregor leaving Rangers by mutual consent after just one season and, although Rangers had no inkling of it at the time, joining childhood heroes, Hibs.
“A lot of people might think I got a bit of a raw deal,” said McGregor. “But I commend the gaffer’s honesty because he could have had me on the periphery of things for weeks as a backup in case someone got injured.
“However, he was really honest and transparent and said: ‘Darren, at your age you need games, you need to be playing – you can’t come chapping on my door in a few months asking why you’re not playing. I’m telling you now.’
“Him and David [Weir] were great and told me I should go and play games.”
Would they have been of the same opinion if they knew those games would be for bitter Championship rivals, Hibs?
“That’s the big question,” he smiled. “I’m not sure. But the fact of the matter is that the gaffer was happy to end it mutually and I was as well. For me, it was just about playing and moving on.
“It was hard leaving Rangers. It’s a good club with really good people. It’s like leaving family members behind, because you do build up a rapport with them, but football is very cut-throat and I need to move onto new objectives now.”
That “objective” is now usurping those teammates and overturning what is already a six-point deficit to Rangers in the Championship standings.
McGregor, of course, attended Sunday’s 1-0 win over Hibs – as a Rangers player. However, he witnessed plenty of sources of solace now he is sporting Hibs colours.
“I had no inkling of what was about to happen. I was watching it as a Rangers player,” he continued. “It was a close game. Rangers have very good players in good areas but so have Hibs.
“Rangers are the favourites and rightly so but Hibs have a team here who are capable of going up as champions.”
It has been a long and winding path to Easter Road for McGregor, who, recalling his days playing for Leith Athletic as a schoolboy, happily admits “I would have signed for Hibs at 12 . . . if they’d wanted me”.
He used to watch the likes of Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy and Mixu Paatelainen – who would later bomb him out of the side at Cowdenbeath – strut their stuff in the bottle green.
Later, working in a trendy clothes store in the capital while he played football on a part-time basis for the Blue Brazil, he would regularly flog the latest fashion to Hibs’ golden generation of Scott Brown, Derek Riordan and Steven Whittaker.
This evening, he is likely to be handed the opportunity to follow in those esteemed footsteps as Hibs face Stranraer in the League Cup.
“It’s been the team I supported all my days and dreamed of joining,” he added. “I never thought it would happen when I was down Leith Links playing for Leith Athletic under-12s! It has been a long old road with plenty of ups and downs, but I appreciate it all the more now.
“I am lucky to have been given this opportunity to play for Hibs, the club that I have supported all my life. I just want to repay their faith in me.”