HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon believes an increasing number of clubs are being alerted to the forthcoming availability of Leigh Griffiths but insists he will take satisfaction in seeing the striker fulfil his rich potential, regardless of whether it is at Easter Road or elsewhere.
Griffiths has scored 12 goals in 13 appearances for Hibs so far this season, helping them to the top of the SPL during his second spell on loan from Wolves. That also earned him his first senior Scotland call-up and he made his debut as a substitute in Wednesday night’s friendly win in Luxembourg.
Fenlon is keen to retain Griffiths beyond January when the player is currently scheduled to return to Wolves. His contract with the English Championship club expires at the end of this season, leaving him free to speak to prospective employers in January. Wolves are looking for a fee of £150,000 to sell him when the transfer window opens that month.
With Fenlon underlining yesterday that Hibs do not “have a penny to spend” on transfer fees, that option appears beyond them. It remains to be seen whether Wolves would be prepared to extend Griffiths’ loan if other clubs emerge with a concrete bid for the player whose preferred option is to stay at Easter Road.
Fenlon accepts that Griffiths will not be short of suitors but is philosophical about the situaton surrounding the 22-year-old, whose development he has mentored significantly over the past year.
“I want to keep Leigh until the end of the season, that’s the priority,” said Fenlon. “After that I’m not too sure what will happen. He’s a fantastic player and if we can keep him until the end of the season, then great. If we can keep him longer, fantastic. We will be trying to do that. Whether it happens or not I’m not sure.
“Other clubs will be looking at Leigh now, which is a minus, but there are pluses to that too. With Leigh getting capped this week, while playing in the SPL it’s a great carrot for other players to come to the club. Other players will see Hibs is a good club and playing up here won’t harm their chances of playing at international level.
“When you are managing players every day, you want to see them progress. Whether Leigh is here or whether he is not, I want him to do well. He’s a great character and I’m delighted he’s had a little bit of reward. He’s had enough problems and enough stick in his career, so a little bit of happiness for him is tremendous.
“He loves playing football. He gets his enjoyment on the pitch and in training. I tell him if he does his talking on the park he will get what he deserves from this game.
“He’s working hard on his maturity. We have to be careful, because that’s part of his make-up. You can’t take everything out of him. His nickname is Sparky and he has a spark about him and we need to maintain that and make sure that it comes out at the right time. He’s working hard on that side of his game because he knew he needed to improve that.
“He merited his chance with Scotland because his record this season has been fantastic. Will I need to calm him down now? He was in this morning and he’s delighted, really chuffed at getting his debut. It’s given him a taste of what’s there for him in his career if he wants it.
“I’ve told him he has all the ability in the world to go and grasp it and become a Scotland international for years to come. He’s got the ability to do that. It’s about getting his mind around it and working hard to make it happen.”
Fenlon dismissed reports linking him with January moves for two Irish-based players, St Patrick’s Athletic winger Chris Forrester and Shamrock Rovers midfielder Ronan Finn but admits the market in his homeland is one he may look at.
“Both players are under contract and we don’t have a penny to spend on transfer fees,” said Fenlon. “I know the market there really well, and a lot of players in it. There are some there who we are interested in. But the story about those two is definitely off the mark.
“I know where we are budget-wise. Things are tight all round. I’m happy with the squad we have. If we can add to it in January, great. If we can’t, so be it. We’ll just have to go on with what we have at the moment.
“It won’t be for a lack of trying but, if we can’t do it, then we can’t do it. We’ve got a really good squad and we have some really good kids at the moment as well. They are making progress, which is good. I felt last season the squad was too big, which hinders bringing younger boys through, so it’s important we try to get that balance right as well.”
Fenlon says club captain James McPake has only a “50-50” chance of returning from injury for tomorrow’s SPL meeting with bottom of the table Dundee at Dens Park, a fixture he is determined his players will not treat lightly.
“We beat Dundee 3-0 at home earlier in the season but, up until the first goal, there wasn’t a lot in it,” he added. “We watched their last two games and they’ve got decent results. They’ve got a good run and they’ve got a bit of solidity about them.
“We are under no illusion that we are going to go up there and get the points without having to work, so working hard is what we will do.”