Neil Lennon believes that the optimism he senses at Hibernian is something that is reflected throughout Scottish football.
The stoked rivalries have helped to fan the flames of excitement and passion and given the game north of the border a renewed sense of self-belief and wider appeal.
“I think the game is on the up again, that’s to do with the Old Firm being back, Hearts are up there and Aberdeen are strong again. Celtic in the Champions League adds that but more razzmatazz to the whole thing,” said Lennon.
He also cites the promise of head to heads with the Auld Enemy on the international stage, as Scotland and England battle for World Cup qualifying group supremacy, as an energising force. “The national team is starting off on a World Cup qualifying campaign with a lot of optimism about it. The game has not been in a great place the last couple of years but it’s starting to turn again,” he added.
At Hibs, the momentum gained from their end-of-season Scottish Cup exploits is obvious, in the signings, season ticket sales and overall swagger. It is something that Lennon is happy to tap into.
“The fallout from winning the cup has been immense. The feelgood factor meant so much to so many people,” he said. “They waited a long, long time for it and a massive weight was lifted off their shoulders. You can see the buoyancy around the place and we have to try and maintain it. We had a really healthy crowd for the first game and I think last week’s win will signal another big crowd this weekend.”
That will be when they welcome Morton to Easter Road. It is unlikely Lennon will have Tom Hateley at his disposal for that match but he has not given up hope of landing the former Motherwell midfielder/full-back. Other clubs, including Dundee and Partick Thistle are pursuing his signature but Lennon has made his pitch and says all he can do now is wait.
If he gets his man, he says there would probably only be one more addition at most. “There is maybe one position that we still need to fill to give us more depth but I am pretty happy with the strength of squad we have at the minute,” he added.
“I looked at the bench last week and it was a lot stronger than it had been. It had been a bit thin but with Andy [Shinnie] and Brian [Graham] in it has really given us a jag that maybe the squad needed. It refreshes everything and adds to the competition and lifts the players and everyone associated with the club and you could see that in the way we played at the weekend.”
The buoyancy of the Scottish game has also manifested itself in a more determined stance when it comes to clubs’ ability to hold on to key players and Lennon is confident Hibs will be steadfast in their refusal to part with striker Jason Cummings after they knocked back a £1 million offer from Peterborough this summer.
“We’re very secure in where we are,” said Lennon. “In terms of Jason, we worked really hard in the summer to get him on a long-term contract with the premise of ‘be here, let’s try and get promotion and we’ll take it from there’. Nothing has changed in that other than a sizeable bid came in but we’re comfortable enough that it got turned down. I want to keep this squad together. Things may change over the course of the season but going into September, I’m pretty confident we’ll have the players in place here.”