GARY Deegan’s return to action will restore added drive and leadership to the Hibernian squad, according to manager Pat Fenlon. The midfielder has been out of action since his jaw was broken in a city-centre incident in early October, but is expected to play a part against Motherwell tomorrow.
Hibs had gone to the top of the league with a win over Dundee on the day Deegan was injured, and although they have played well in some games since, they have lost three out of their last four SPL matches. With captain James McPake also due back after a month out because of a back problem, Fenlon is looking forward to his team regaining the consistency and competitiveness they showed earlier in the season.
McPake looks likely to start tomorrow’s game at home to Motherwell, but Deegan, having been out for a longer period of enforced inactivity, may have to make do with an appearance off the bench. He had been due to play in an under-20s game against Celtic on Tuesday, but that was postponed.
A start against Motherwell could be too much to ask, said Fenlon, who explained that he was unlikely to decide until today. “He’s close, he has trained, and he’s back in with the group,” the manager said. “The under-20s game would have brought him further forward, but he’s trained and he came through a good session yesterday, so we’re delighted to have him back.
“It might be too early for him to start, although to be honest we haven’t decided. We’ll have a look at him in the morning, have a look at the team to face Motherwell, and make a decision then.
“It is a bit like getting a new player. We’ve been careful with him. We could have rushed him a bit, but obviously with the injury he got it was really important that he was physically right.We’re delighted that he’s back and we’re hoping that he makes the same impact as he did initially.
“With James McPake, Gary and even Tim Clancy, they are vocal players for us, as well as being good footballers. Their leadership qualities are something we need – and something we felt we missed last week, as well.”
Right-back Clancy has been out for longer than his two team-mates with a groin injury, and is still a week or two away from making a comeback. But the return of Deegan and McPake will give Hibs a stronger spine, and Fenlon believes that the strength will be mental as well as physical, with Deegan having shown his resilience in dealing with his injury.
“I’ve known him since he was 14 and I know the type of character he is,” Fenlon said of the 25-year-old. “He is definitely one who you would think will be able to deal with it.
“I know there are others you would think would struggle to cope, because there are other effects, not just physical. But he’s a strong boy, a strong character in all ways. He’s dealt with it well.
“He’s come up from probably one of the harder areas of Dublin, so anything he’s got he’s had to earn – probably like most of us from the north side of Dublin. So, in that way, he’ll be able to deal with things like that, because he understands that you need to work for things. He isn’t the type of player to let things get to him. He’s been successful, he’s done well – and he’s dealt with that, as well, because he knows what’s on the other side of the fence.
“He’s right back to his usual self. He’s grumpy and moany, giving it to everyone. He’s got a great drive, Gary, and what he does in training sessions is gets them up to a tempo.
“That is different, because he demands from people. When I brought James and him in, I said at the time that they demand that training be at the level we want. If it’s not, they let people know quick enough.
“We’ve missed that from Gary, not just in training but even in some of the games. We’ve missed both of them, Tim as well. It’s great to see them out there, because Gary trains like he plays.
“James has trained and is ready. We’re hopeful that there is no reaction because he has done that over the period he’s been out, had a little relapse. It looks like it’s cleared up, so we’re delighted with that.”
Although delighted that two key players are returning, Fenlon also insisted that not too much had gone wrong with his team in their absence. Their away form is problematic, but at home their only loss has been to Aberdeen last month. They will have a chance to avenge that defeat in February when Craig Brown’s team return to Easter Road in the cup,
“We’ve won in the Scottish Cup two weeks ago [against Hearts], but we didn’t perform last week and that was disappointing,” Fenlon added. “Analysis of the game shows there weren’t a lot of shots on goal, but we allowed crosses into the box too easily and didn’t defend them.
“We know on the road we haven’t been good enough, but this is a brand-new team and it will take time for all those aspects to gel properly. The three players out are big players for us and we need to get them back into the squad.”