Jake Doyle-Hayes was so jealous of Hearts’ European adventures last season he refused to watch a single minute.
This year, he hopes to be in the thick of the action as Hibernian seek to emulate their city rivals.
The Easter Road side will have their work cut out to copy their capital foes, who dropped into the group stages of the Europa Conference League courtesy of a play-off defeat in the Europa League. With no safety net, Hibs, by contrast, will have to negotiate three ties in Europe’s third-tier before they can guarantee continental competition through to Christmas.
It may be a tall order but Doyle-Hayes is adamant that should be the aim for Lee Johnson’s outfit, who begin their quest with a trip to the heat and altitude of Andorra to face Inter Club d’Escaldes in their second qualifying round first-leg on Thursday.
“It was tough and I tried not to watch their games, to be honest,” said the midfielder of Hearts’ European sojourn. “I avoided them all actually!
“We wanted to be there and want to be in Europe. So we set out last season to make sure we got Europe and managed to do it. We’re there now so we need to push on and get to the group stages.
“The way the manager wants us to play is high pressure, front foot, so going into the European games we need to implement what he’s asking us to do. If we do that, we’ll be decent.
“We want to go as far as we can, everyone wants to get to the group stages and play as long as we can. I think we have the squad to do it.”
Doyle-Hayes’ debut for Hibs came in Andorra two years ago against Santa Coloma in the same competition. That finished with a 2-1 second-leg victory and a 5-1 aggregate success, before they exited the tournament against Rijeka of Croatia.
Doyle-Hayes is fully aware the conditions in the Iberian principality will pose potential problems for the capital men, as well as an Inter team who saw off Vikingur of the Faroe Islands 3-2 on aggregate to set up the meeting with Hibs.
“We were in Marbella for a training camp and it was roasting, so we’re going over to somewhere hot again,” continued Doyle-Hayes. “We will have to control the game and impose ourselves. If we do that we should be alright. It’s tough in the heat but if we control the ball well we’ll do okay. “Everyone expects us to win and win comfortably, but they’re in there for a reason and had a good win the other night. The way they play is going to make it tough so we have to concentrate on ourselves and make sure we’re okay.”
Hibs warmed up for their European opener with a 2-1 friendly win over Dutch side Groningen on Friday night. Doyle-Hayes played for the full 90 minutes, something he managed only three times in 19 appearances during an injury-tainted campaign last season. Talk of a possible move away, with Forest Green Rovers turned down, provided further uncertainty for the Irishman.
“It was tough, I had a stop-start season last season and it was mentally hard,” admitted the 24-year-old. “I had good people around me, at home, the staff and the players, and they kept me going. I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt now so I’m ready to go.
“I wanted to stay here because it’s a big club and my family is settled in Edinburgh. I feel the club is going places so I wanted to stay and be part of that.”