Hibs' Aiden McGeady: The last four or five months have been some of the worst of my career - I thought about packing it in
McGeady joined Hibs on a free transfer from Sunderland last summer, linking up with his former Black Cats boss Lee Johnson. The ex-Celtic and Everton playmaker started some of the early-season League Cup ties but then damaged his knee in a friendly against Norwich City. The condition of the joint was so serious that the Republic of Ireland internationalist gave serious consideration to retirement. However, the long rehabilitation has paid off. McGeady started his first cinch Premiership match of the season in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Motherwell, setting up the first goal for Kevin Nisbet and looking an attacking threat throughout the 86 minutes he was on the pitch. The last time he was in top-flight starting XI in this country was back in May 2010, when Celtic won 2-1 at Tynecastle against Hearts.
The moment was all the more sweeter for McGeady given the persistent pain in his knee and the contemplation of hanging up his boots. A stellar playing career that includes three years in Russia with Spartak Moscow and 93 caps for his country, he has little to prove. Yet the fire still burns fiercely inside. He loves playing football, enjoys life at Hibs and dispels any myths that he is back in Scotland “to top up my pension”.
“It was my first game in the league here for more than 12 years,” McGeady said in the aftermath of the victory in Lanarkshire. “It’s not that I feel I’ve got something to prove, it’s just that I’ve not played so long I feel I owe the club and the fans something. I feel people might think I've just up come here for the last couple of years of my career. That’s not the case at all. I still love playing football and I still feel I have something to offer.
“The injury really set me back a lot, because it was a recurrence of the same one from last season. There’s nothing worse than being injured. The last four or five months have been some of the worst of my career. I actually contemplated just packing it in completely. I thought, ‘I’m never going to get over this’. But it’s all worth it when you have days like Sunday, when you are out there enjoying playing football again and showing you can make a difference.
“It was just about getting over the pain in my knee. We took it really cautiously this time. At Sunderland I rushed back and had two or three setbacks. I was more cautious this time. There must have been people thinking, ‘he’s up here for a jolly, or to top up his pension’, whatever they want to say. I absolutely wasn’t. I still love playing football and I want to do well for this club."
The return of McGeady, and other senior players such as midfielder Kyle Magennis and Sunday’s hat-trick hero Nisbet, will only help Hibs get back on track. After a promising start to the season, Hibs found themselves slipping down the table following an 11-game run that brought two wins and nine defeats. The pressure was starting to build on Johnson, particularly after a 3-0 New Year derby loss to Hearts, as the relegation zone creeped into view. Hibs are not out of the woods yet, but with a league fixture list that includes matches at home to Dundee United and Aberdeen and a trip to struggling Ross County on the horizon, the team has a chance to make competing for a European place the narrative, not avoiding the drop. There is also the opportunity to avenge the aforementioned defeat by Hearts when the Jambos visit Easter Road on Scottish Cup duty a week on Sunday.
“I don’t want to speak about what’s gone on before, but if you put myself, Nisbet and Megennis, the three of us have been out for a year – Martin Boyle as well,” reasoned McGeady. “It doesn’t help the manager when you have three or more focal points of the team out, It will hold you back a bit. I can only imagine he feels better having us three fit and I'm just glad to get back on the pitch again.
“We have gone on such a bad run but it just shows how tight the league is. You win three games in a row and you shoot up the table. We just need to put a but of a run together. We’ve got Dundee United and then Hearts in the Scottish Cup. It’s not been good enough but hopefully Sunday will be a turning point.”
McGeady knows Johnson well from their time together on Wearside, where he performed well for him at Sunderland – and while the manager has taken plenty of flak for Hibs’ performances, his player echoed the sentiments of Magennis and Nisbet last week that the players have to do more. “It’s about the buy-in from the players,” McGeady added. “The manager is the one who loses his job at the end of the day but the players need to take responsibility. The manager picks the team and the formation, but it’s hard when it’s down to individual errors, like it was at 2-0 at Tynecastle. The manager gets the blame, but that’s the industry we are in. I think if he gets his best players and formation, with the game intelligence and game management, I don’t think we will be too far away.”