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Aidan Smith: Riordan and O’Connor’s roles at Hibs

Hibernian's Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor. Picture: PA

Hibernian's Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor. Picture: PA

GET rid of all the green cr*p now. It’s early days for the Terry Butcher revolution at Hibernian so we don’t know to what extent he might appropriate Prime Minister David Cameron’s new environmental slogan. But revolution there will be.

The unwanted and non-functioning will leave, new guys will come in, maybe a couple of strikers who’ll vow to shoot Hibs to glory. Meanwhile, fans of a wistful persuasion – there are one or two down Leith way – might feel compelled to inquire: “Deek, Gaz – where did it all go wrong?”

Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor both turned 30 this year. They should be at their peak. Maybe it’s too fanciful to think they’d still be a double-act, that they’d still be playing for Hibs. But, when people talk about the team developing under Tony Mowbray possibly winning the title if it had stayed together, they are mainly thinking of the goals these two scored. The quantity, the quality, the nonchalance of them and the arrogance. Instead Deek and Gaz have become the lost boys of Easter Road.

O’Connor, last pictured hacking at the weeds in pensioners’ gardens as part of community service, has re-emerged from the undergrowth at Bury. The Russian Cup-winning ex-Scotland striker who has played in England’s top flight recently turned out as a trialist for the 89th-ranked team down south. Meanwhile, Riordan, Celtic’s best but rarely-used finisher when he was there and still the Scottish Premier’s all-time third-highest goalscorer, has been training with Alloa and rejecting offers from Arbroath.

How has it come to this? Lots of reasons. Pick one, pick a few. They were badly advised. They listened to the wrong people. They themselves weren’t smart enough. They were boys who came from little and suddenly landed too much money, too soon. They kept the wrong company. They joined the wrong clubs, or the right clubs with, for them, the wrong managers. They moved again, but to places providing more loot rather than sound rehab. They acquired bad habits. They didn’t work hard enough. All of this has been said and, doubtless, a lot of it is true.

Last Tuesday it was Steven Naismith running about daft up front for the national team rather than either of them, a specific role neither would have been thrilled about fulfilling anyway.

This is fairly crucial. Both Riordan and O’Connor were (and hopefully could be again) natural-born goalscorers. In any given season, restored to fitness and form, all at their best, the pair would outscore Naismith and maybe Kenny Miller as well. Different players. I loved what Miller did but I also love what the terrible twosome have done. What’s not to love about the eerie calm they possess in crowded boxes? What’s not to love about their gallusness and excellence with left foot or right?

Anyway, who says football has to be played with only one up all the time? It would be nice to think that, when this fad has passed, the fad for false 9s, Duracell bunny 9s, backtracking 9s, 9s who’ll also paint the lines, and (very Scottish this) invisible 9s – we might be bold enough to venture out with two front men.

What do the pair themselves say to it all? O’Connor, elusive for a while, continues to keep his own counsel. Riordan, when I interviewed him in May, wasn’t sad or bitter or turned off football. He blamed bad luck as much as poor judgment. He told funny stories against himself. His description of a typical menu from his disastrous spell in China was: “Chicken feet, what I was told was frog and other no’ right stuff.” That will be the best quote I obtain all year. He didn’t come across as a bampot, although he probably knows some.

He was keen to get back playing and yearned for a third and last stint at his beloved Hibees. But that was six months ago. Riordan and his best pal in football have always seemed in keen competition with each other. For goals – hundreds of them – at boys’ club level. For the most ridiculous haircut. For notoriety. For the most godforsaken football outpost to plonk on their CVs. It would be great if there was a real race to be the first one back scoring, that they’d put a stop to this withering on the vine.

Meanwhile, Hibs continue with Rowan Vine.

 

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