Hibernian defender Darren McGregor admits clinching promotion has been a major pressure release – but he remains anxious to build on their success with more cup glory.
Holders Hibs warmed up for Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen by sealing the Ladbrokes Championship title with victory over Queen of the South.
McGregor feels facing Premiership teams suits Hibs better and they will relish the chance to play unburdened by the favourites tag at Hampden.
The former St Mirren and Rangers player, who scored twice against Queens, said: “Going into the start of the season, the mandate was to win the league and that’s been achieved, so it does really feel like there is a release of pressure.
“For me this is a great opp to showcase our skills again. We have done well in big games in the past couple of years and we are hoping to continue that.
“It’s maybe just a change to the norm. We have been in this league three years now, and no disrespect to any other team in the league, but when you go to Dumbarton, Raith Rovers, Ayr, these teams, they tend to sit in, fluster you, and stick to their principles of defending.
“You can’t knock them but the bigger games, teams will come out and have a go and I think we fare better when we’re playing against opposition that are willing to go and attack, because we have good footballers in the team.”
Hibs have won eight times against top-flight opposition in their three seasons in the Championship, with Aberdeen among their victims.
McGregor said: “Over the past two years we have played five or six Premiership teams and beaten almost all of them, apart from Ross County, and that was just unfortunate the way that ended.
“We know we are capable, we know we are a Premiership team in waiting, and these cup games we just seem to rise to the occasion.
“That is one thing we have maybe got over Aberdeen, we have been in semi-finals last year, we have been in semi-finals of the League Cup, so we are well-versed in them.
“Although they are on a great run of form and they are the favourites, we go in as underdogs and we seem to thrive on that tag.”
McGregor had as much cause to celebrate last season’s Scottish Cup success as anyone given he was raised a Hibs fan in Leith, where everyone was more than aware of the long wait since 1902 to claim a third success in the competition.
But the 31-year-old is not one to sit and reflect on their achievement at this stage in his career.
The centre-back said: “I pinch myself every day to think, has it actually happened?
“But in football you have always got this anxiety about what next? So after we won the Scottish Cup we had a couple of weeks to enjoy it but then it’s next season, it’s try to reach those heights or surpass them again. There is always something else.
“I think the magnitude and appreciation will maybe come once you’re retired and you have not got that anxiety of playing again.
“Players get it because you want to win, you want to do well. As soon as that disappears then you are really in the wrong game. You want those nerves before games.
“There is always something to look forward to, so we knew after the Scottish Cup it was the league, we knew we had to go up after three years, people’s jobs were at stake. I carry that and that pushes me forward.
“I have thought about it a couple of times, I have only really watched it back once or twice, but I am just so grateful I had the opportunity, not just to be there and witness it but to actually be on the park and contribute. I will be eternally grateful.”