Battle-hardened Sean Mackie is determined to make up for lost time after a testing year on and off the pitch.
The powerful left-back is inching his way back to full fitness after spending the best part of 10 months on the sidelines with an ankle injury sustained on loan with Sunday’s Betfred Cup opponents, Dundee.
That spell away from Easter Road gave him time to reflect on a whirlwind breakthrough at Easter Road, followed by the frustration of a red card at Ibrox that stalled his progress.
Better, not bitter, for the experiences picked up over the past year, the Scotland Under-21 cap now feels better equipped to challenge long-serving Lewis Stevenson and emerging talent Josh Doig for a regular starting spot.
Sean, it’s been good to see you back out there. Talk us through the last few months.
I feel as fit as I have done in a long time and I’ll never take it for granted again. When I started against Forfar in the Betfred Cup last month it was the first 90 minutes I’d played since I was on loan at Dundee in the first half of last season. I tore the cartilage in my right ankle back in January, which required an operation, and then with everything else that’s happened in the world I’ve had to be patient. In one way, with the season being cut short, I didn’t miss out on too many games but the flip-side is I think I’d have been back quicker if I was in every day at the training ground getting treatment. I did everything I could remotely and the staff were great. It wasn’t as bad for the rest of the boys who were able to go out running. I had to stick to my bike. I’d get up at 6am and go on a loop of East Lothian, do my own gym session when I got back and then the specialist rehab exercises. I think it was a mental challenge more than anything else. At times it felt like playing games was a long way off and you have to find a way of motivating yourself, but that’s probably been the case for everyone in the last few months – not just footballers. I missed being in with the boys on a daily basis. Instead, you’re on your own. David Gray had a similar injury, so he was great. He just told me not to rush it and to come back when I was ready.
After all the excitement around initially breaking into the first-team set-up at Hibernian, you had those two knocks in quick succession. The red card at Ibrox and then the injury at Dundee.
Everyone has their ups and downs in football. I suppose it’s the nature of the sport. That red card at Rangers was probably the first real knock I’d taken in senior football, so I had to get my head around that. Everything had been pretty straightforward up until that point. At the time I was gutted. I didn’t think it was a red card on the day but, having watched it back, it was a daft tackle for my first booking and then a stupid hand-ball. It was a big game in front of a packed Ibrox, for a manager who’d given me an opportunity. It definitely didn’t feel like it at the time but experiences like that probably help you in the long run. It also played a part in me going out on loan.
We know Dundee’s manager, James McPake, was determined to get you in. How do you look back on your time with Dundee?
It was good to go to a team that was challenging for the league title. It meant you had to get used to the pressure of trying to get a result every week, which you need to be able to cope with to do well at a club like Hibs. James made me feel wanted. He came in for me rather than Hibs having to tout me around for a loan. As players you felt the desperation of the supporters for the team to do well and win promotion. They demanded a lot and rightfully so. I had a few on my case but I don’t blame them. They just want what’s best for the club, deep down. It was a new experience to be singled out and get the odd comment. You’d hear people shouting stuff and that was a first for me as well as I’d always been involved in a Hibs team that had been doing pretty well. It must be one of the benefits of sending a young player out on loan and it definitely toughened me up. I had a couple of shockers when I was at Dundee and it can get to you. Maybe it’s because I went through that, but I feel like I beat myself up a bit less now than I would have previously. I know you just have to work hard and keep trying to do the right things.
What about off the pitch?
It was the first time I’d been away from home. I stayed in a flat with one of the other boys. So that was another learning curve. I did my fair share of the cleaning. Less so in the kitchen. I couldn’t drive, so that made it a bit more difficult as well than it might have been otherwise but I’m really grateful for the opportunity I had to at Dundee before it was cut short with the injury. I learned a lot and I’d love to see them back in the Premiership. James is a really good manager who was always easy to talk to. He knew when to have a pop and when to encourage you. I bumped into him at one of the games earlier in the season when he came to watch us, and it’ll be good to see him and a few of the other boys again on Sunday.
Did you consider going back on loan this season to get yourself up to speed?
I had the option of going back out on loan, but I took the decision to stay here and fight for my place. I feel good and just need to do what I can to get some more minutes under my belt. Lewis being out injured gave me that opportunity. My goal was, first and foremost, to make the bench and then take it from there. I want to do everything I can to make an impression here and give the gaffer something to think about. He’s been great with me. He’s pulled me aside a few times just to see how I’m doing and encourage me to keep going.
You’re only 22, so you’ve got a long way to go, but how’s it felt watching Josh Doig follow in your footsteps – from the Academy to the first team at left-back?
Josh has done brilliantly and hasn’t looked back since that first day at pre-season. He got his chance and took it, which is all any young player can do. Maybe there’s slightly less pressure on boys breaking through this season with no supporters in the stands. That’ll be something he still has to experience – a full Easter Road and all that comes with it. I’d had a taste but my first real test was coming on at half-time against Celtic. The place was packed out. I’d been out warming up when I got the shout, so I probably didn’t have time to be nervous. I went on in midfield and managed to set up Flo Kamberi for our second goal. It was a great game and occasion to be involved in and Josh has that ahead of him. The same goes for guys like Jamie Gullan, who has been in and around the first team for a while now, but also Ryan Shanley and Stevie Bradley who have made a good impression in training.
Finally, what should we expect on Sunday?
Dundee will be right up for it and looking to prove they can make the step up. Declan McDaid’s always a threat and we know we can’t give Charlie Adam the time and space to shoot from distance. We’re looking forward to it. Our goal at the start was to win the group so we need to get over the line on Sunday.
Season ticket holders can read more from Sean in Sunday’s digital match programme.