DARREN McGregor yesterday spoke of the “mental warfare” which lies ahead for his Hibernian team-mate Martin Boyle who faces nine mouths out of football having picked up a serious knee injury while with the Australian squad.
The winger’s season is over, and it may be well into the next campaign before he is seen again, which is a huge blow to both player and club.
McGregor is no stranger to dark times. Two cruciate ligament injuries robbed him for two years of his career during his twenties. There was even talk that he would have to retire and even this season the defender has missed over three months.
Boyle is a popular and valued member of Neil Lennon’s squad and while he faces some tough times, he will get plenty of support – which he will need – from inside the dressing room.
McGregor said: “I’ve been in Martin’s shoes. I’m led to believe it’s a meniscus, a lateral tear, so they are bad ones. But, to be ruled out for the rest of the season, I feel his pain, especially as he was on the upturn.
“He’d been called up for Australia, his consistency levels were good and he was playing his best football that he’s ever played. It’s a body blow and for that to be taken away from you, when what you enjoy is taking away from you, it can get you down and depress you.
“People always say: ‘Ah, be positive, look on the bright side,’ but when you are in your darkest hour, there is no bright side. What you treasure is taking away for five months. It’s mental warfare.
“But he’s a strong guy and there’s good people behind him. There are a few guys in the team that have had bad injuries, myself included, so if he ever needs anything whether it is a chat, a physical issue or mental support, we’ll be there for him.
This is the side of football few see. Sure, Boyle will be back, perhaps better than ever, and with a new young family he would be the first to say there are a lot worse off.
But as McGregor can testify, such long absences from the game, the endless and monotonous rehab, the hours spent away from team-mates, is not easy even for the strongest of characters.
He said: “You can get down, you can get depressed, you can have dark days. You just have to ride it out. You do have negative thoughts when it first happens, but you draw inspiration from those around you.
“Martin has just had a wee kid, so that’ll give him some perspective. At least when he goes home, he has the little one and his wife to look after him. The potential to come, that’s the carrot that dangles. Your appreciation of the game.
“He’s still a young guy and the motivation is to get back playing to a high standard with Hibs and back to the Australia national team. That’ll be his motivation, his light at the end of the tunnel and he needs to use that.
“For me, it’s an experience, a learning curve which takes mental toughness and means when you come through the other side you are stronger person.”
McGregor knows what he’s talking about.
He recalled: “I did my ACL at 26 and the lateral meniscus. Then I came back from that and did the same to the other knee. I know exactly how he feels. He’s got experienced pros who will help him through these tough times.
“The third game of the season afterwards against Hibs, the big guy Ben Williams smashed into it from the side and ruptured everything. The second time is worse than the first.
“It was my left and then my right and it’s a journey. You accept you will have down days, but you have to stay positive.
“It’s difficult, but the medical facilities and staff at Hibs, you wouldn’t want to rehab yourself at any other club. In that way, he’s very lucky, but at the same time, it’s tough.
“There is one positive with the season being over is that he has the middle of June to get it right. The staff will make sure he goes through every stage and he’s in safe hands.”