WHEN it comes to dealing with the trauma of last year’s Scottish Cup final, Pat Fenlon is convinced there is only one thing Hibernian can do. He’s a down-to-earth type, so has no interest in psychotherapy, self-hypnosis or anything of that order.
Instead, Fenlon thinks his team should just go out and win the thing. Simple as that.
Given Hibs have not won the trophy since 1902 – a fact of which he is all too well aware – Fenlon knows that triumphing in the competition is easier said than done. But he is sure that is the only way of counterbalancing, if not quite cancelling out, the 5-1 defeat by Hearts last May.
“Go out and win: that’s the only way to get it out your head,” he said yesterday. “Go out and enjoy the occasion.
“We’ve been there twice. People only talk about the last time we were there, but we were there for the semi-final when we went and won, which was fantastic. That’s got to be in our heads as well.
“We’ve got another opportunity to get to a final in a short space of time, which doesn’t happen a lot. A lot of players don’t get to one, never mind two. Obviously there are a few of the lads here who enjoyed the semi-final last season. It’s a horrible place to lose, in a semi-final. We’ve got to make sure we’re on the winning side again.”
On paper, the Easter Road side should do that tomorrow when they are favourites to beat First Division Falkirk in the first of this weekend’s semi-finals, and Fenlon will tell his team to draw confidence from the fact that they come from a higher division than tomorrow’s opponents. But the trouble is, having just failed to make the top six, Hibs are somewhat short of confidence at the moment. The manager will therefore encourage them to savour the occasion, and remind them that, having beaten Aberdeen in that 2012 semi-final, they are capable of playing well in big matches.
“We’ve got to embrace that,” he said of their status as favourites. “We’ve some real good players – we’ve got six or seven full internationals around the squad, some real good experience, and we’ve got to make sure we make that count.
“The important thing is making sure we don’t let the occasion pass us by or think we just have to turn up to win the game because people make us favourites. We’ve got to make sure the focus is on winning the game and not get involved in anything else.”
Inevitably, when it comes to the cup, Hibs find it hard to focus merely on an individual match. Certainly Fenlon, for all that he has only been in his post for a year and a half, has already had his fill of discussions about the 111 years which have elapsed since the cup last made its way from Mount Florida to Leith.
“It’s a long time and it’s something people are going to speak about,” he accepted. “The only thing I can do about it is end it, but people are going to bring it up as long as it’s there.
“I’m not thinking about failure. We’ve got to concentrate on going and winning the game. We’ve got the players capable of that. Falkirk are a decent side – we’ve had them watched a lot and I’ve seen them myself but we know we have players capable of going and winning the game.
“We’ve watched a lot of First Division games this year, including Falkirk, because we feel there’s a lot of really decent players in the division. Since the draw we’ve seen them. We’ve plenty of information about them. There’s a few of them catch my eye but I’ll wait until after the game to talk about them. They have some real good technically-gifted young players and a real good leader in [Darren] Dods at the back. He has experience and organises them really well. If we go out and let them play, they’ll cause us problems.”
Towards the end of a season in which first-team regulars such as Tim Clancy and Gary Deegan have been out for long spells because of injury, Fenlon is in the happy position of having a full quota from which to select his squad of 16 for tomorrow.
But, while his players are in good physical health, that question still remains about their mental state – not only because this is a big cup game, but because they have only rarely raised their game since the turn of the year. And in their last match, a 3-0 defeat at Celtic which confirmed they would not be in the top six, Hibs seemed sadly lacking in any real self-belief.
“Earlier in the week they were disappointed to be outside that top six,” Fenlon said when asked about the players’ state of mind. “We’d worked tremendously hard to try and get there, and we went on a bad run at a bad time and it’s cost us.
“But we could be sitting here with nothing else to play for. We’ve still got a lot to play for: we could finish at the top end of the bottom six and get to a cup final – and maybe get to Europe. So there is still a lot to play for.”
Conversely, if they lose tomorrow, there will be next to nothing to play for. But that is a possibility which Fenlon sees no reason to contemplate right now.
“I’m not going to think about that – that’s another negative. I’m just thinking positive.
“We want to get to the cup final. That’s it. Whatever happens after that, we’ll speak about it then.
“But if we get to a cup final it will be a good way to finish the season. But I’m sure Falkirk are thinking the same.”