HIBERNIAN captain David Gray admits trying to keep up with fitness fanatic Darren McGregor has fuelled his comeback bid.
The 31-year-old returned to full training last week after enduring four months on the sidelines with a devastating knee injury, handing new Hibees gaffer Jack Ross a massive boost ahead of a packed Festive fixture list.
McGregor suffered a similarly severe abdominal strain just a week prior to Gray’s set-back, confining two of the club’s modern-day legends to the physio’s room and sessions gym during a tumultuous period at Easter Road.
McGregor is also on the cusp of a return after lining up in a reserves’ victory against St Mirren last Tuesday.
And, while it has been a tortuous spell for the pair, Gray has revealed they drove each other on as they seek to prove they have plenty left in the tank.
Gray said: “It will be good to be back involved because it has been a long, frustrating time.
“It’s never nice to be injured, but sadly the one thing I do have is experience of that, especially longer-term ones. When things weren’t going well on the pitch, you feel powerless to help.
“It does help when you have someone going through rehab with you – Daz [McGregor] and I have been good gym buddies for the last four months . . . one day you’re miserable then the next day he is miserable!
“No, it is helpful to have someone like Daz who is so professional and works hard every day. There were some days when I was feeling down and he was there to push me on, and vice-versa. That is important.
“It’s been difficult but hopefully we can both put that behind us and kick on.
“He’s a big boy in the gym, so I’m just trying to play second fiddle and keep up half the time! It’s a case of whatever Daz says goes. I’m just chasing him around the place.”
Gray concedes that the only minor positive to being consigned to the stands has been witnessing the Hibees’ revival under new boss Jack Ross.
He lavished praise on their silky 3-0 triumph over Aberdeen – a fourth win in six outings since replacing Paul Heckingbottom at the helm of the Easter Road outfit.
However, as he returns to contention, Gray insists they players must ensure this is not another ‘false dawn’, like when Heckingbottom enjoyed a 10-game unbeaten streak in the league after taking charge in February, only to be sacked nine months later.
“You see it all the time; when a new manager comes in for some reason the place gets a lift,” continued Gray. “I don’t know if it because some guys aren’t playing and then they get a chance again – or it is just a freshness about the place.
“Hopefully, we can keep going the way we are at the minute but that is down to the hard work of everyone involved.
“We don’t want another false dawn and that is the responsibility of the players to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Gray readily admits 2019 has been one of the most turbulent periods he has experienced during his time at Hibs, having seen the club managed by Neil Lennon, Heckingbottom and now Ross over the course of the calendar year.
However, it is the feeling of underachievement which sting the most – and he has a 2020 vision for a European push.
“I probably can’t remember a season when there has been so much change in the one year,” recalled Gray. “But the most frustrating thing was, as a squad, we felt we were underachieving so far this season.
“We wanted to be up near the top and the results weren’t showing that – either did the league table.
“Now, we have put a wee run together ahead of a busier period and we want to keep that going. The last few weeks show how quickly things can turn around.
“Now we are looking up and saying ‘how high can we finish?’
“At the start of the season we wanted to finish in a European place and win a cup and we can still achieve that.
“It has been a turbulent start but if we can keep going like we are we can be up there.”
**David Gray was speaking as the Hibernian squad delivered Christmas gifts during their annual visit to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children**