‘Hungry Irish’ remind Neil Lennon of Scots of old

Hibernian captain David Gray at the club's East Mains training ground. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Hibernian captain David Gray at the club's East Mains training ground. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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Neil Lennon is convinced the kind of “hunger” he tasted as a teenager when idolising the visiting Paul McStay and Roy Aitken is feeding into the success of Northern Irish managers in Scottish football.

The Hibs boss will square up to one of his compatriots this afternoon when former international team-mate Stephen Robinson brings on-form Motherwell to Easter Road.

Last weekend, Lennon took on countryman Tommy Wright against St Johnstone and Brendan Rodgers is currently sweeping all before him domestically with Celtic.

It means a quarter of the teams in the Premiership are led by managers from across the water and Lennon reckons there are sound reasons for the current success of the Northern Irish.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but I think we get well schooled by the IFA, who have great coaching courses over there in terms of doing our badges and our progress under [coach education manager] Nigel Best,” he said.

“And you’ve got Michael [O’Neill] there who is doing wonderful things with the national team, so it’s all good, all very positive.

“And we are hungry, we want to do well. The Northern Ireland boys are a little bit of a throwback to the way the Scottish boys have been over the last 20 or 30 years. There is that real work ethic.

“The Scottish clubs have picked good managers. Brendan has been a revelation, so has Tommy, I have had my bit and now Stephen is cutting his teeth at Motherwell. I think there will be a few more coming through as well.

“There is a hunger there. When you are growing up in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland were the places you wanted to be but they seemed a million miles away.

“It was massive to meet players because you never saw them in real life.

“When I was a kid, Roy Aitken and Paul McStay came over for a do in Belfast and I just thought it was amazing. I was just like ‘wow’. I was 14 and I was starstruck.”

After three matches without a victory – a home defeat by Hamilton Accies and draws with Dundee and St Johnstone – Hibs need three points this afternoon to prove they are contenders for the top places,, but David Gray believes that not being guaranteed a starting berth as club captain highlights the strength in depth that can drive Hibs to success this season.

The full-back has started the last two games against Dundee and St Johnstone and is in line to again lead the team out against Motherwell, but the Scottish Cup hero of 2016 had been left out of the previous two matches after missing the opening-day win over Partick Thistle through suspension.

The 29-year-old, pictured, though frustrated at being overlooked on the club’s return to the Premiership, is adamant the fierce competition for places all over the squad can only be a good thing.

“I was suspended for the first game of the season and then the lads won,” he explained. “That’s football, that’s just the way it goes.

“I had to be patient, I had to continue to work as hard as I could in training, knowing that if something came up or there was an injury or the manager asked me to play I would be ready to play.

“I got the opportunity away to Dundee and I’ve played alright in the last couple of games.

“Just because you’re captain doesn’t give you a divine right to play. I think competition for places is so important all over the pitch. When everybody’s fully, the manager will have problems naming a squad of 18, never mind an 11.”

l Hibs have been struck a blow after it emerged defender Liam Fontaine requires surgery on ankle ligament damage that is likely to keep him out for up to three months.