KENNY SHIELS knows he’ll take pelters from the Hibs fans when he steps into the away dugout tomorrow night.
However, the Northern Irishman loves every second of the banter that goes hand-in-hand with being one of the most outspoken managers in the SPL.
The Kilmarnock boss isn’t afraid to speak his mind and ruffled a few feathers on his side’s last visit to Easter Road – a game the Ayrshire side lost 2-1 – after claiming that Paul Cairney had deliberately gone down in order to claim the penalty kick that eventually saw Hibs win the match.
That sparked an angry reaction from manager Pat Fenlon but even the staunchest of Hibs supporters would grudgingly agree that Shiels’ arrival in Scotland in 2010 has brightened up Scottish football.
Interest has dwindled and crowd numbers have dropped across the country in recent years but Shiels is trying to spark his own revolution at Kilmarnock.
He insists on his side playing a passing game and is refusing to overlook home-grown talent in favour of loan players.Forthright with his opinions, Shiels is a larger-than-life character, passionate about football, refreshingly open and honest and instantly likeable when you meet him away from the hustle and bustle of a matchday.
He may have fought more battles with the football authorities and other managers than he cares to remember, but Shiels insists that a lot of his comments are made with his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek and says he just wants to see a sense of humour injected back into the Scottish game. While the reception he gets from the Hibs supporters tomorrow will be red hot, Shiels is relishing his visit to the Capital and is even looking forward to engaging in some banter with some of those in the stands.
He said: “You expect a bit of banter – and you get a good laugh when they’re all shouting at you as well.
“To be honest, I enjoy all of that side of the game too. It’s all a bit of fun.
“Obviously, you want your team to do well and you’re passionate about that, then at the same time you’re getting an earful from the opposition.
“It’s good. It comes with the culture of football and I would probably be annoyed if they weren’t shouting at me.”
Shiels, who last week agreed a deal to bring Kris Boyd back to Kilmarnock on a short-term deal, is loving life in Scottish football, having spent the last two-and-a-half years at Rugby Park, but he admits that he wishes the game north of the Border wouldn’t take itself quite so seriously.
“Scottish football is great – if everyone would leave me alone,” he smiled.
“I want people to have a sense of humour and I love it when you get a laugh with the supporters, whether they’re your own or the opposition’s.
“There can be a lot of paranoia in this country and it would be great to see a bit more humour in the game. Things are a bit rigid. I have got a sense of humour and so have the rest of my management team.
“Sometimes when you say things tongue-in-cheek, the next thing you are up in front of the SFA or people are falling out with you. It’s crazy.”
Kilmarnock will travel to Edinburgh tomorrow night on league business for the first of two clashes with Hibs in the space of just five days.
They face up to one another again on Sunday – this time at Rugby Park – in the quarter- finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup and so far this season Hibs have edged the honours.
While Fenlon’s side emerged victorious from that home game earlier in the season, they drew 1-1 down in Ayrshire and Shiels felt that Killie were fortunate to emerge with a share of the spoils from that match. He acknowledges the quality of Hibs players like Ryan McGivern and James McPake and believes his men go into the double-header as underdogs but is confident they will more than give Hibs a run for their money.
“We were lucky to get a draw at Rugby Park,” recalled Shiels, “but the game up in Edinburgh we should have won.
“I think it was more down to bad luck and bad decisions.
“Those scorelines should probably have been reversed as I felt that they did enough to beat us down here and vice versa.
“We certainly did enough to beat them in the game in the autumn at Easter Road.
“Hopefully, we can match up to them over the two games we have got coming up. They are favourites because of the quality that they have. They have brought players from England like Ryan McGivern.
“I know him because he came through my youth system and they have got James McPake and Scott Robertson, who are also good players.
“If you look at the players they have managed to bring in, it is amazing. They have also got Leigh Griffiths, who has done well for them.
“He scored against us earlier in the season and is a danger, but they have more than one player who can cause us problems. They have got plenty of options.” The financial state of football has left Scottish managers with an even tougher task than usual in putting together a squad that not only stays within the limits of their budget but that also performs to a level high enough to keep them in the top flight.
Shiels has gone out on a limb with that one and has made the decision this season not to use loan players and instead focus on producing more home-grown talent.
The Kilmarnock manager knows that choice will make his life more difficult in the short-term but he is hoping that the club will reap the long-term benefits of his policy.
And he admitted that seeing some of Killie’s younger boys miss last season’s League Cup Final win over Celtic because their places had been taken by loan signings had eaten away at him.
Now he believes that it is morally wrong to take the easy option as opposed to investing time and experience in bringing young talent through the ranks.
He insisted: “The youth policy is the way forward – and we are the model club because we don’t use loan players.
“It is a principle that I have. We used two last season and we went on to win the League Cup and I felt a little guilty, but I have managed to work my way into a situation where we want to grow our own players, play the game the right way and not use loan players. I think that will create a better identity with Kilmarnock and the district of Ayrshire. If we do that then I think that is a fantastic and brave thing for us to do.
“If we bring in loan players they are not our own and I don’t think that is right. I don’t think there should be loan players.
“I don’t want to ridicule anyone but there are clubs who are bringing in players on loan, getting a bit of success but then their players are gone come the end of the season.
“It is not what I would call morally correct.
“I know that puts us at a disadvantage, I am aware of that, but it will benefit us in the long-term.
“Last year, I used Ben Gordon from Chelsea on loan at left-back and won the League Cup. But Rory McKeown didn’t get to play and he is a developing player who has been brought through.
“That ate away at me until I finally decided that I wasn’t going to do it any more, where possible.
“I am not condemning people who do it, that’s not my aim, because I have done it in the past, too, so I can’t be a hypocrite.
“It’s just something that I want to do and I think it is important for the supporters because I want them to come to watch a game on a Saturday with a relish, thinking ‘those are our players’ and they form an affinity with the players and the club.”