BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Paul Hanlon has been inundated with envious messages following the spine-tingling rendition of The Proclaimers’ anthem Sunshine on Leith at an electric Easter Road on Tuesday evening.
To continue the theme of Leith’s most famous duo, the Hibernian defender has described his own personal journey from misery to happiness.
Just 21 months have passed since Hibs were relegated from the top-flight, a fate which ended the disastrous reign of Terry Butcher and marked a nadir in the career of boyhood supporter Hanlon.
Recovering from knee surgery at the time, he watch on helplessly as they slipped out of the Premiership on penalty kicks on their own patch after blowing a two-goal aggregate advantage against Hamilton in a fraught playoff.
They faced Hearts in the Scottish Cup at the same venue, but that is very much where the similarities end. Hibs displayed quality, togetherness and resilience as their bid for a remarkable Treble continued with a 1-0 win over their city rivals.
And Hanlon, the club’s longest-serving player alongside Lewis Stevenson, has never enjoyed life at Hibs more than he does under the watchful eye of head coach Alan Stubbs.
“I am delighted to come in every morning, it’s a great atmosphere and definitely the most enjoyable time I have had here,” said the 26-year-old.
“I’m coming up for nine years as a first-team player and have worked with good players and decent teams, but the way it is now – with the way the manager has put together the team – is the closest, tightest group I have ever been involved with.
“Allied with the ability in the squad, it is just a great place to be.
“When we were relegated, that was rock bottom. I was injured for the last couple of months of that season and just sitting watching it all unfold could not have got much worse.
“It is just night and day to when it was then, the fans are coming back in their numbers. Everything is so positive now.”
There was no finer illustration of that fact than Tuesday night as just shy of 20,000 fans packed into Easter Road to roar the Hibees on to victory; a fifth consecutive Edinburgh derby without defeat.
The lap of honour to the strains of Sunshine on Leith have been shared liberally online and, as a fan as well as a player, Hanlon admits the whole night gave him goosebumps.
“The scenes were incredible. Loads of people, even guys who aren’t Hibs fans, have been in touch to say the Sunshine on Leith was amazing and it would have been unbelievable to be there,” he continued. “It just whets your appetite for what could happen if we are successful.
“I wasn’t able to celebrate beyond that. I was home with a cup of tea and a slice of toast in bed! I was on such a high that I was up for half the night, you just can’t get sleep.
“I watched a bit of TV but you are still buzzing from the game and you end up staying up all night.”
Nevertheless, it is back down to earth tomorrow with the comparatively modest visit of Alloa.
The fixture will not draw the same attention or attendance, however Hanlon insists Hibs cannot afford to take their eye of the ball as they seek to ensure fixtures against Premiership sides are a weekly occurrence next term.
“There is no point winning against Premiership teams and then not getting promotion back to where we should be,” the former Scotland under-21 skipper said. “We are not contemplating not winning promotion, the focus is – no matter how we do it – getting back to the top flight.
“It is about playing well every week. There is no point raising our game against Premiership teams and then dropping points in the league. We are ready for that. The players we have are more than capable of playing in the Premiership.”