Scotland Kid Admits Poverty in Bulgaria Puts His Scottish Cup Final Heartache into Perspective.
By Gordan Parks in Troyan
Paul Hanlon reckons the scars of a Scottish Cup Final hammering from Hearts will never fully heal.
But the Hibs defender insists one look at the poverty and misery suffered by the locals near Scotland's Under-21 base in Bulgaria helps make memories of his Hampden heartache fade into insignificance.
The town of Troyan has provided a reality check for Hanlon, just two weeks after that embarrassing 5-1 defeat from Hearts' big rivals.
It's a horse and cart operation with shanty town houses filling a landscape that has little to offer as a tourist destination other than a monastery that provides some comfort for desperate souls.
The population is devoid of smiles amid the dilapidation and gloom. Stray dogs roam the unfriendly streets that are filled with the scowls of people who appear stuck in a dark, communist era the rest of Eastern Europe has long left behind.
Life here seems permanently set in the 1970s with everything shrouded in a drab Soviet-style aura of austerity. Rusting and crumbling, Troyan is truly a depressing setting.
It is not the place you'd pick if you wanted your spirits lifted but Hanlon, who'll take on Bulgaria tonight in a European Championship tie, believes the sights he's witnessed in the last few days have actually helped put his Cup Final misery behind him.
The Scotland full-back said: "Looking around here, there's not a lot of good happening really. It makes you feel lucky and grateful for what you have.
"I know quite a lot of people who have gone on holiday to Bulgaria, although they stayed in tourist places.
"I wasn't expecting it to be like this but we can't worry about it too much a we're here to do a job and then get home."
Hanlon's Cup Final hangover lingers and he's just pleased to have the chance to try to end a traumatic season with success in Lovech.
The 22-year-old said: "If we could get a win over here it would give me a lift going into the summer as the Cup Final was obviously disappointing.
"It's hard to get over it and it was always going to be that way a it was all or nothing.
"It was going to be the best day of our lives or the worst and it went the wrong way for us."
"It's going to be hard all summer thinking about it really so I'm pleased to have this game to focus on.
"I don't know why it went so badly for us at Hampden, too many people on the day didn't turn up. Getting Pa Kujabi sent off at the start of the second half made it even harder for us.
"It hurt everyone. All the fans who were there deserved better than they got. But it's something I have to put to the back of my mind now as I must concentrate on this game."
The self-confessed Hibs fans has had his family to lean on as he licked his wounds following the 5-1 defeat to Hearts which he and his team-mates will never be allowed to live down.
He said: "A lot of my family came through to support me and Hibs at Hampden and it was a disappointing day.
"They knew how gutted I was going to be so it was just a case of making sure I was all right.
"The lads were all feeling confident in the build-up to the game but on the day it didn't happen for us and it's something we have to live with now.
"I wouldn't say I was fully over it but I'm just glad to be looking forward to this game with Scotland.
"Obviously, every time we play Hearts now we're going to be reminded of it, but it's just something we'll have to deal with. You get disappointments in football and it's all about how you come back from it.
"All the build-up and walking out at a packed Hampden was amazing but that's something I'm going to try to use to make me stronger and want success even more.
"People said before the game that occasions like that don't come round too often but hopefully we will work hard next season and try to get there again.
"Even before the Cup Final it was a tough season for us, so hopefully coming through it all will make me stronger as a player and a person.
"It's tough for our fans, they paid good money to go to the game and we let them down. Hopefully, we can repay them next season and get them back through the door at Easter Road."
But first up for Hanlon is helping Scotland get a result in Bulgaria.
Billy Stark's side can open a door towards qualification for Israel 2013 if they can secure a result and the defender believes they are capable of winning despite being held to a goal-less draw at home to Bulgaria in September. He said: "We are looking forward to it, it's a big game and if we get the win we'll be in a good position.
"We were disappointed when we drew with them so we are coming here confident we can get the win.
"We played well enough in the 0-0 draw in Paisley but they came over, worked hard and were very organised as a team.
"But they are far from unbeatable and everyone's looking good and we're just looking forward to the game."
Hanlon is also hoping to emulate their last game on their travels when Stark's side won in Holland and he's backing goal machine Jordan Rhodes and sidekick Johnny Russell to give the Scottish public something to smile about.
He said: "Even if we take a battering for 90 minutes, with Jordan up top for us and players like Johnny we can always nick a goal. We're definitely looking to get the win here.
"When we came home from Holland it was all over the papers and it was a great achievement, so if we can get a victory here we can lift the spirits back home while putting ourselves in with a great chance of qualifying.
"It was a tough season with Hibs, and with Scotland we have had some good performances like the win in Holland, so it's been a good distraction and you come back feeling confident and raring to go again for your club."
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|Publication:||Sofia News Agency|
|Date:||May 31, 2012|
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