BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Danny Handling has paid tribute to “inspirational” Alan Stubbs after the Hibs boss doubled up as his gym buddy to help him navigate nine months of injury torment.
The 22-year-old feared his season was over before it had started when he suffered cruciate knee ligament damage in a friendly against Berwick Rangers back in July, recalling the horrific “pop” as he crumpled to the Shielfield Park turf.
He required two separate operations to fully repair the damage, as well as countless hours on exercise bikes and in the swimming pool during a tortuous road to recovery.
Nevertheless, Handling has revealed that Stubbs was there every single step of the way – and has ensured he has returned to full fitness stronger than ever.
He said: “It’s been a long road. It would have been shorter but I needed a second operation on my cruciate. That kind of set me back. Every day was a challenge in itself doing gym work and it was tough.
“The manager was great with me. He was in every day doing the rehab with me. He gave me the incentive to keep going as he was always watching me and he was inspirational on a daily basis.
“It was good for me and my positive frame of mind. If the manager is interested in what you are doing then you always have something to aspire to. It speaks volumes for the manager that he went through that.
“It wasn’t just for show, he was doing the hard miles and talking me through it all. Most days he was there with me and that gave me the inspiration to battle back, although a couple of days he slacked off!”
Aside from Stubbs’ support, Handling needn’t look far for advice on how to bounce back from a cruciate injury; one of the most devastating set-backs in football.
Club captain David Gray, Darren McGregor – twice – and Jason Cummings have all endured the same injury and have been quick to offer advice during Handling’s recovery process.
He continued: “I spoke to a few boys who have done their cruciate in – Thommo [Kevin Thomson], David Gray, Darren McGregor, Fraser Fyvie and Jason Cummings and they all have different stories and rebuilt their cruciate.
“It just shows you the work the team have put in to get me back as quickly as they have. Dave and Thommo gave me a decent insight as to what it was going to be like.
“I just took anything that Jason [Cummings] said with a pinch of salt, we know what he’s like! They all gave me the confidence to get through it all.
“I remember when I was told that it was a cruciate ligament injury, I just thought ‘how long am going to be out for? What are the next steps?’ It took a month before it eventually sunk in but I got through it thanks to my teammates and the gaffer.”
While the timing of his injury was galling, the timing of his recovery could hardly be better.
Handling was named in a match-day squad for the first time this season as a substitute in last weekend’s League Cup final defeat against Ross County, while he was again on the bench in the 2-1 Scottish Cup win over Inverness.
With a congested fixture list ahead, and Hibs fighting for promotion and Scottish Cup glory, the waspish forward is likely to have a notable part to play in a mouth-watering run-in.
Handling, who could make his maiden appearance of the campaign against Raith Rovers this evening, added: “I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.
“We can’t dwell on the cup final as it was a massive disappointment for the fans and the club but we have to move on if we want to achieve what we want to achieve.
“We have a big season ahead as we have the opportunity to be in another cup final and we want to get promoted.”