Hibs skipper always wanted to stay at Easter Road
James McPAKE looks perfectly at home as he settles down on one of the comfortable sofas dotted around the reception area of Hibs’ East Mains Training Centre. The club skipper looks perfectly at home – it’s as if he’s never been away.
And in essence, of course, he hasn’t, the big defender having become a familiar – and popular – figure around Easter Road as he spent the second half of last season on loan in the Capital.
But in fact it was only hours before Pat Fenlon’s players reported back for the beginning of pre-season training that McPake learned he’d be heading for the outskirts of Tranent rather than the English Midlands, a deal having finally been struck with Coventry City which will allow him to pull on a green and white shirt for the next two years.
It was what McPake, Hibs, Fenlon and the club’s fans wanted although during protracted negotiations the 28-year-old admitted he was never quite sure what the outcome might be.
McPake was well aware he was wanted back in Edinburgh after Fenlon had told him long before the end of last season he wanted to turn his temporary stay into something more permanent.
However, with a year of his Sky Blues’ deal still to run, the former Livingston man knew the matter was far from clear-cut, expertly batting away questions towards the end of the season about his future with the retort that as things stood he was a Coventry City player, under contract and he’d be back at the Ricoh Arena on July 1.
McPake stuck rigidly to that stance, never letting the question interfere as he focused on the task in hand, helping steer Hibs to SPL safety and the small matter of that first all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final in 116 years.
That, though, was the easy bit, says McPake, adamant the intervening weeks as speculation continued to swirl around his head was tougher to take before everything suddenly fell into place over the space of a few hours.
He said: “It might have all seemed to have come together very quickly in the end, but it wasn’t quick for me because I had known about it since before the end of last season when the manager said he wanted to make things permanent.
“It could have been worse, though. It might have dragged on to the end of August [the closing of the summer transfer window], so I’m glad to be able to join the rest of the boys for the pre-season work.
“When I was telling people I was still a Coventry player I had to believe it. I always had it in my head that we still had to get it agreed, so I was not building it up too much that I wanted to come here.
“I’d enjoyed my time with Hibs so it was up to the two clubs to agree something. I just put it to the back of my mind because I had a job to do, first and foremost to make sure Hibs stayed in the SPL which we did with a game to spare, although that was maybe a bit too close for comfort.
“My mind was on other matters, then there was the cup final which took the season on a bit further, but it has been the weeks since which were the tough bit, not knowing if it was going to happen or not. But in football things always seem to take a while to resolve themselves; they rarely go to plan.
“The two clubs talk, one comes up with one thing and the other something else and all the time you are hoping they can agree. Then you as a player have to agree. There’s a lot to be done. I knew the clubs were talking, then that it might go-ahead, and a couple of hours later it was announced.”
McPake is, of course, well aware of the fact Hibs are in a period of transition following two seasons struggling at the wrong end of the SPL table while the nature of their defeat by Capital rivals Hearts in the cup final only added to the fans’ misery. But, he insists, he’s more than willing to meet the challenges of the coming months head-on, revealing that day at Hampden in May only added to his desire to get back in a green and white shirt and begin to make amends.
He said: “Regardless of the result that day, my mind was made up that if the clubs could agree I wanted to come back here, in fact the result probably made me want to come back even more. I’d built up a great relationship with the fans and I owe them, everybody at this football club owes them for that day.
“I loved playing for this club and I thoroughly enjoyed working with the manager who, in my opinion, is the right man to take the club forward.
“He is going to start this season with a blank canvas. He has got rid of a lot of players and is going to bring in his own players which is fair – you have to give him the chance to do that.
“It’s a clean sheet for everyone and hopefully next season we can take a huge leap and not be involved in any of the troubles we were last year.”
McPake realises the cup final continues to cast a shadow over everyone at Easter Road, but, he argued, Fenlon has already passed his first test, that of retaining Hibs’ SPL survival.
He said: “As far as I am concerned he did what was asked of him last season and that was to keep the club in the SPL. A good cup run was a bonus although in the end everyone will just remember the final which is fair enough. For the fans it could have been the biggest day of their lives and it wasn’t.
“But we aren’t going to dwell on it. This is a new start. There’s a different mentality at the club now and I can almost guarantee we are going to be a different team.”
McPake knows that as club skipper he’ll carry much on his shoulders, but having been handed the captain’s armband immediately on his arrival in January, it’s a responsibilty on which he’ll thrive.
He said: “I’ve always been like that. At Livingston I was made captain at 23 or 24 when we had players like Lee Makel and Dave Mackay who had much more experience than me. But if you are made captain you must have something, if you don’t then you definitely learn it quickly. It was a learning experience for me and again at Coventry, learning from guys like Lee Carsley who had played at two World Cups and spent 15 years in the Premier League.
“I think I’ve taken bits and pieces from everyone I have played with through the years. I enjoy being captain. It was an honour in the first place to be made captain of such a big club and I’m looking forward do doing so again.”
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