HIBERNIAN yesterday culled 14 players, including former skippers James McPake, Kevin Thomson and Ben Williams, as they began an extensive rebuilding process following relegation from the Premiership.
The Easter Road club confirmed that 11 squad members would not have their deals renewed, while three more – Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore, Notts County striker Danny Haynes and Arsenal youngster Daniel Boateng – have returned to their clubs after ineffectual loan spells. Reports have also circulated suggesting other players still with agreements in place for next season, including captain Liam Craig – who is rumoured to be heading back to former club St Johnstone – have been told they are free to find new clubs during the close-season.
Manager Terry Butcher held meetings with his out-of-contract players just hours after Sunday’s desperate penalty-kicks defeat by Hamilton Accies in a play-off final in which Hibs came within 90 seconds of safety before being relegated.
Butcher himself spent the entire day at East Mains. Players left the training base one by one, before the manager departed at 5pm after talks with chairman Rod Petrie and Leeann Dempster, the club’s new chief executive who officially starts her new role on 1 June. Butcher and Petrie both vowed after Sunday’s humiliating defeat that they intend to stay on. The bulk of the under-achieving playing squad have not been afforded that luxury.
All three first-team goalkeepers – Williams, Sean Murdoch and Paul Grant – were freed, while player-coach Alan Maybury, midfielder Tom Taiwo and winger Paul Cairney joined McPake and Thomson is departing. The list was completed by youngsters Bradley Donaldson, David Gold and Dean Horribine. However, the futures of the likes of defensive pair Michael Nelson and Ryan McGivern, the versatile Lewis Stevenson, strikers James Collins and Paul Heffernan have also been called into question amid suggestions of a pay cut in the Championship.
McPake left East Mains with a parting shot aimed at Butcher and assistant Maurice Malpas after failing to play a single game under the pair, despite claiming to have returned to fitness following a back operation. He said: “The manager has told me that I’ll not be part of his plans. I’m gutted. I loved playing for this football club. We had some good, and some very bad, times as well. But I’m more disappointed I never got the chance to help the club stay in the division. It is a fantastic football club and to be relegated is heartbreaking. But you can’t just level it all at the players. I’m 100 per cent, I’ve been training for ten weeks. Could I have played a part? Definitely. That’s not to say I would have made a difference, but I was fit enough.”
Thomson departed yesterday’s meetings also with a grievance over his lack of game time under Butcher after he made just eight appearances since the new manager’s arrival in November.
The former Scotland cap, who had returned to the international set-up under previous boss Pat Fenlon, said: “It’s hard, everybody knows how much I love the club. But unfortunately the manager’s got a different opinion to a lot of people, so I have to respect that and I will now be looking for a new job. Did I expect it? I think so. It’s only natural the way he’s been with me over the last six or seven months since he came in. I would like to think I tried my best to repay him when I did get in the team and tried to put on some good performances – unfortunately Sunday wasn’t one of them.”
FIRST WAVE OF FREED PLAYERS
OUT-OF-CONTRACT PLAYERS NOT OFFERED NEW DEALS
Paul Cairney (winger)
Bradley Donaldson (defender)
David Gold (midfielder)
Paul Grant (goalkeeper)
Dean Horribine (midfielder)
James McPake (defender)
Alan Maybury (defender)
Sean Murdoch (goalkeeper)
Tom Taiwo (midfielder)
Kevin Thomson (midfielder)
Ben Williams (goalkeeper)
LOAN PLAYERS WHO HAVE RETURNED TO THEIR PARENT CLUBS
Daniel Boateng (defender)
Danny Haynes (forward)
Duncan Watmore (winger)