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Sunday 22 October 2017

Deegan: I'm focused on game now

ANOTHER week and another Twitter row involving an Irish footballer, as James McClean has managed to type his way into trouble yet again.

At times like this, Dublin-born and Scottish-based midfielder Gary Deegan is very glad that he has logged off from the social media site. The 24-year-old is very happy doing his talking on the field of play, in the engine room of Pat Fenlon's Hibs side, who have a potentially season-defining week ahead with two games against Kilmarnock in the SPL (tonight) and Sunday (Scottish Cup).

Last summer, Deegan learned a lesson about life online, and what can happen when what is intended as banter between two mates becomes public. In

response to news that his then Scottish-born Coventry City team-mate James McPake had declared for Northern Ireland, as a joke Deegan tweeted "Up The Ra" – probably not the wisest thing to do seeing as Coventry was once bombed by the IRA.

Initially suspended by the club, Deegan never played for Coventry again and Fenlon soon brought the former Bohemians man to Edinburgh, where he has shone on the field and out of the limelight.

"Me being on Twitter and Facebook was a bad idea as I had no idea how to use them," Deegan admits.

"I am staying well clear of all that now; people are just waiting to jump on footballers when they say the wrong thing. You have kids there on Twitter just waiting to be provoked and wanting to have a go at you, so I am better off staying away from the social networks and just playing football.

"I thought that I was just making a joke to a mate. That's the kind of banter that goes on between players and if I had just sent that joke as a text no one would have known about it but it turned into a big deal.

"It's just about football for me now. I have a job to do at Hibs and that's all I care about.

"The move here has gone well for me. I scored my first goal against Aberdeen the other week which put us into the next round of the Scottish Cup, so that was nice to get and open my account. Things are going okay as I am playing well.

"I am very happy here in Edinburgh. My contract is up at the end of the season but I'd love to stay on as I think we can do something big here at Hibs, and Europe next season could be great for us if we can get there," Deegan told the Herald.

Deegan has played club football in three countries but says he's never seen anything like the SPL where just four points separate the team in second place (Inverness) from the side who are fourth from bottom (Dundee United).

Today, the table looks poor for Hibs as they lie in sixth place and could end up in the bottom half when the SPL splits in a few weeks. But on the other hand, they 're just three points off second place and a potential place in the Champions League.

"I played in England and Ireland but this is the tightest league I have ever seen," says Deegan.

"It's crazy, over the space of a week we dropped from third to seventh. Consistency is a big part of it over here but none of the teams outside of Celtic seem capable of going on a run.

"We've only had one win in the last seven league games but no one else has been able to steal a march on us and get too far ahead.

"I think we can still have a very good season. Pat's aim for Hibs is to improve on last season, and the club were nearly relegated last year.

"Europe is an aim for us and we can try to make it into second place. If we can go on a run we could get second place, that's the aim as no one is going to catch Celtic at the top.

"Our main aim for the club this season was a top-six finish, that would have been a big improvement on last season but second place is still there for us," added Deegan, who has blossomed since hooking up with Fenlon again.

Fenlon handed Deegan his senior debut while at Shelbourne (2006), and the pair combined again to win two leagues and a double with Bohs.

"I have only been here a few months but I think Pat has changed the face of the club," added Deegan.

"Before he came here I think this was a club that just accepted things. They were happy to stay in the league but Pat wants the club to push on, wants us to succeed as players and be successful, not just settle for things.

"He has changed the mentality here. He has shown through his career that if you're not doing the job as a player you'll be out.

"That is good for players as it keeps you on your toes and sharp."

Some big games are on the way for Deegan and Hibs, with an Edinburgh derby with Hearts next month and then a trip to Parkhead before the SPL split in April.

But for now the priority is that double header with Kilmarnock, especially Sunday's Cup sixth-round tie.

"We have a league game with them tonight and that's the focus, depending on the midweek games we could go second," said Deegan.

"Getting to Hampden Park for the Cup final would be a nice one to have on the CV.

"I won the last cup final I was involved in when Bohs beat Derry on penos, I'd like to get to another final."

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