HIBERNIAN stalwart Darren McGregor has joked that his spell in lockdown has allowed him to focus on developing his eldest son, Max, into an Easter Road star of the future.
With Scottish football on an indefinite hiatus amid the coronavirus outbreak, McGregor has turned his attention to the considerable challenge of daddy duties – something of a full-time occupation in itself.
His youngest boy Ray was born last October and is a typically tireless bundle of energy, daughter Miah, 6, has just learned to ride a bike thanks to the tutelage of McGregor’s wife, Erin.
Max, 5, spends the majority of his time in the back garden honing his football skills and McGregor reckons he is already showing more technical ability than his old man.
And while his kits include Manchester United, Liverpool and even a New Zealand rugby jersey, dad has made it clear that he’ll be pulling on the green of Hibs in the future.
“Lockdown has been a new experience for us all and, although it’s a challenge at time, it’s also exciting to spend so much time with my young kids,” McGregor said.
“Erin has taught my daughter how to cycle without the stabilisers, so she’s been whizzing about outside the front of the house and my wee man, Max, is just mad about football so he’s easy to keep entertained.
“I don’t think I’m the best person to coach him. He’s better with the ball at his feet than me already! I’ve got high hopes for him.
“He’s got about six different strips. I don’t discriminate – well, maybe I’ll discriminate against a couple of teams – but we’ve got him a Liverpool top, a Man Utd top and even a New Zealand rugby top.
“But I’ve already said to him ‘you’re playing for Hibs when you are older’. He’s started to believe that as well – plant that seed early doors.”
While hugely appreciative of the time he has been able to spend with his doting family, McGregor is the first to admit the enforced sporting shut-down has been anything but a ‘bunch of roses’.
The mental challenge of being a professional athlete without the day-to-day structure and adrenaline of football, he concedes, is a stark one and he can appreciate why some players may be enduring dark days.
“When this all kicked off, this was just like a break; a bit of time around the house,” he continued. “But as the weeks go by, you lose a bit of that professional focus. It takes away a bit of your purpose. That’s tough.
“It’s not just seeing the lads you miss. It’s the competitive aspect of it – having a good days training, winning the five-a-side game and knowing you had a really good day. You miss working hard at the gym and the endorphins that come from that.
“When you take that away then it can be a bit challenging and I can imagine for some people, especially those on their own, this could be a bit harder.”
It is an issue which Hibs have clearly foreseen, implementing regular social gatherings on video conferencing platform Zoom and creating a WhatsApp group containing employees from owner Ron Gordon down to the youth squad.
“Some people are absolutely fine in their own company and aren’t too fussed,” he continued. “But others guys maybe have different personalities – and Hibs have made sure they let everyone know that someone is on the other end of the phone, if they need it.”
McGregor, however, has a sharp sense of perspective regarding the struggles of footballers during the devastating coronavirus outbreak, admitting that it feels churlish to complain about a lack of football after thousands have perished.
He continued: “We do all want clarity but it’s not just about us wanting to play football.
“Everything needs to be in place to ensure it is safe to do so. Thousands of people have lost their lives and it’s catastrophic their families and friends so I’ll not be sitting here saying ‘but when’s the season going to start’.”
Speaking after Hibs launched their 2020/21 home jersey which will have the words ‘Thank You NHS’ emblazoned on the front, the Easter Road veteran added: “The NHS have put themselves in harm’s way and done an incredible job.
“In the dealings I’ve had with them, through the birth of my three kids, they’ve been excellent. Every midwife we’ve had and every single person who came into the room have been first class.
“This four or five weeks has just shone a light on the amazing work they do. It’s the least we can do and they deserve all the plaudits they are receiving.”