PAT Fenlon does not like to dwell on May’s Scottish Cup final. And, given his Hibernian team lost 5-1 to Hearts that day, the Irishman’s reluctance is understandable.
Yesterday, though, even while insisting that the Hampden humiliation had little relevance to the meeting on Sunday of the two Edinburgh teams in this season’s fourth round, Fenlon did look back. At first it was only to point out that the personnel at both clubs has changed since then, and to explain that he did not want his team to regard this weekend’s game as a chance for revenge.
But the more he talked about it, the more it became clear that he regarded it as a serious learning experience, albeit a very bitter one. And, perhaps showing that time has allowed him to see the lighter side of that occasion, he also joked about what it has taught him regarding his own behaviour.
“I was hurting after the cup final but I’m not sure if it has any relevance to Sunday,” the Hibs boss began. “I think in football, particularly as a manager, I’ve had some bad days and you learn how to deal with them in different ways.
“After the cup final I locked myself away and didn’t want to see anyone for a few days. It’s not nice but you have to deal with it. It’s difficult because there are other things in your life, people outside the football circle who don’t get bothered if you lose a football match.
“You have to try to deal with everything else in your life and that can help bring you back to reality a bit quicker, although my family weren’t here for too long after it either so I dealt with it on my own a lot. You learn from different things and cope in different ways.
“I don’t let a lot out. I tend to hold it in, so I probably dealt with it inside. I locked it inside and bring it out now and again to remind you not to get too carried away when things are going well.”
Although Fenlon would rather not have had such a harsh lesson, he regards the final now as confirmation of an early diagnosis he made when taking over as Hibs manager at the end of 2011, that the squad needed a near-complete transformation.
“It was a difficult time personally but you just have to deal with it and I think we dealt with it in the right way in relation to what we’ve done with the club,” he continued. “When it happened it was important to deal with it and resurrect the club and bring it back to where it should be. I think we’re on track to do that. Dealing with it wasn’t just about the days after but over the entire summer and the changes that we had to make.
“I haven’t watched the cup final again and I don’t plan to. I can’t learn anything from it, I have a completely different group. The only thing I can learn from it is maybe to keep my hands in my pockets,” he said, referring to the gesture to Hearts fans which got him sent off,
“But I can’t learn anything from the football stuff, nothing at all. I know people judged me after that and I had to get on with that. People had their say and I listened to some of the comments.
“People said ‘I told you so’ and doubted us after the cup final, but we’re in a good place just now. It was a definitive moment in terms of where the club was, that’s certainly true.
“We got back after the game and I spoke to people running the club. That was the time to say ‘that has to change because today has proven how far backwards we’ve gone’ and we’ve changed the club around. I think we’ve done okay since.”
Hibs are favourites for Sunday’s game, despite the almost certain absence of captain James McPake with a back strain and the fact that they have not beaten their Edinburgh rivals in a dozen games.
Fenlon is aware of that record, but hinted that it was partly due to the money Hearts have spent over the past few years,
“There’s a period of time where Hearts were in the ascendancy but I think there’s an obvious reason for that – but I won’t go into that. We’ve got to make sure we stop it when we can and Sunday is about getting a result for the supporters.
“It’s about winning a game of football. We can’t do anything about the past. It’s probably a bigger game for the support and those who run the club but I have to prepare a team to win the game.
“I’ve never got carried away about cup draws, because you could get anyone. At least with league games you know who’s coming up, but with cups you just take who you get.
“But from speaking to people they seemed to think they knew this would be the draw from the start. I’d prefer to be at home to Hearts than at Cowdenbeath like last year.
“It’s something to look forward to. We’re at home, which is great. I’m thrilled about that. We’ve got a good Hibs crowd. I’ll prepare the team as I do every week and give them a gameplan with how we want to play and can affect the opposition.
“Then we’ll speak about the discipline and how you carry yourself and behave on the day. It’s really important to keep everyone on the park.”
Which was not the case, as Fenlon is all too aware, back in May, when Pa Kujabi was red-carded minutes into the second-half.