BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
HAVING overcome one major mental hurdle, Danny Handling has now set his sights on helping Hibernian to Europa League redemption.
The striker snapped his cruciate knee ligaments 12 months ago and has endured a lengthy battle back to full fitness that saw him miss the whole of last season, including that historic Scottish Cup win over Rangers in May.
The 22-year-old returned to the scene of his horrific injury at Berwick earlier this week for another pre-season friendly and confessed to nerves over treading the same turf again.
But, having come through that psychological and physical test unscathed, the Scotland under-21 cap is eyeing Thursday’s clash with Brondby with heightened anticipation.
Handling played in both legs the last time Hibs were in Europe, suffering the embarrassment of the 7-0 hammering at Easter Road that dealt them a 9-0 aggregate thrashing from Malmo in 2013, but is relishing the opportunity to ensure another bad memory is firmly consigned to history.
“I’ll be honest, I was a bit anxious returning to Berwick,” he said. “At the back of my mind I knew that a cruciate injury is a bad injury but that I was just unlucky that it happened to me.
“I just had to get over it and try to move on. You can’t really think about that when you’re going into a game. It’s been put to bed, I took it in my stride.
“I jarred my knee on the first day back training – the same knee, a wee niggle – but I’ve overcome that.
“So, I’m ready for a fresh start. The gaffer’s been good so far and everybody’s been enjoying the training the way it’s been going.”
Brondby battered Valur of Reykjavik 10-1 on aggregate to set up Thursday’s trip to Edinburgh and the visit of such a free-scoring Scandinavian opponent could send shivers down the spines of some Hibs fans and players alike after the sobering experience three years ago.
However, Handling is adamant that, having taken some Premiership scalps in cup competitions last season, Hibs can relish the chance to pit their wits against crack continental competitors.
“The boys have all been thinking about it, it’s not far away now,” added Handling. “It’s something to look forward to and something to really enjoy.
“They’re a good side, they’re one of the top teams in their league, so it’s going to be a good battle for us.
“But we’re not a bad team ourselves. We’ve got a very strong team, the quality we’ve got in the dressing room shines through.
“We’ll see how the first game goes at home but we’re not hiding away from anything, we’re a confident side and we’re a strong side, so we’re looking forward to it.
“I played in both legs of the Malmo tie and I thought we matched them in the first-leg over there, but things didn’t go to plan.
“But that’s in the past and we’ve just got to try to put it behind us, which it well and truly is.
“It doesn’t even cross my mind going into this game. It’s all about Thursday, forget about everything else that’s happened. It’s all about the positivity at the club.”