HIBERNIAN’S trip to Celtic Park this afternoon provides Paul Cairney with a return to the scene that last season witnessed his most notable outing for the Leith club. Until Terry Butcher took over the managerial reins at Easter Road last month, it looked like he would be denied any opportunity whatsoever to top it in this campaign.
Cairney has started every game under the new Hibs manager. Under predecessor Pat Fenlon the 26-year-old simply disappeared. Hooked at half-time as the Leith side found themselves 3-0 down in April’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk that they subsequently won, Cairney never played a single minute more under the Irishman.
These past six months were a far cry from the first six the Glaswegian enjoyed at Easter Road, following his move from Partick Thistle. His good start was capped by a September day in the east end of Glasgow wherein the professional and the personal came together in memorable fashion. Cairney scored his first goal for Hibs to help them to a 2-2 draw and was watched by his father Paul and family members from the hospitality seating of the stadium, where his father regularly entertains.
“He’ll be up there again for this game, no doubt, but he’ll be cheering me on and hopefully we can get a win. He’ll be quite happy if we do. Obviously he has been a Celtic fan for all his days, but he jumped up when I scored and he wants Hibs to win every time I play with them. It was a really good moment for me to score that day with family in the Celtic end as well.”
Cairney popped along to see his dad in the hospitality suite after the game and not every home supporter he encountered was as warm about his efforts on the pitch as his relative. “The reception I received there was quite mixed, to be honest,” Cairney said. “But my dad took a table that day so there was a lot of my family around.” Family were no doubt important to Cairney to pour out his troubles to as he became a player discarded by Fenlon. He doesn’t deny that, ahead of Butcher’s arrival, he had begun to harbour thoughts about the possibility of moving on to end any footballer’s most-hated grind.
“It was obviously the case that I wasn’t playing and I found it very hard coming in Monday to Friday and training and Saturday being left out the squad completely,” Cairney said. “But the gaffer’s come in and hopefully he likes me and that’s why I’ve been playing. He has put me in and I would like to thank him for that. Obviously I need to go out on a Saturday and prove why he has picked me.”
Fenlon never gave Cairney a reason why he didn’t pick him. “But that’s football,” said the midfielder. Cairney offered up that there might have been reason enough in results, his last 13 league games of last season yielding only two wins. “I knew myself I had a bad patch leading up to the semi-final and I know it wasn’t acceptable and I never played after that. I’ve just kept on working hard and thankfully I’m back in the team.”
Cairney has been a Butcher banker even after the player was red-carded a fortnight ago in the Scottish Cup win away to Ross County. The ordering off was never going to derail the Cairney comeback, though, when his manager shared his conviction that an injustice had been perpetrated with the yellow card that resulted in the dismissal.
Butcher has been tuned into his players and Cairney believes the effects are clear: “Confidence was low, but the gaffer’s come in and I think the fans have seen there is a lot of passion about the club. We are looking forward to Celtic and I’m sure we can beat them.”