PAT Fenlon has admitted that he will turn “very shortly” to other options as time continues to march on without there being any resolution on the long-term future of loan signings Leigh Griffiths, Jorge Claros and Ryan McGivern.
All three players’ loan spells at the club are due to end towards the end of next month. There are only two more opportunities this side of the winter break to play them. In the view of the fans, Griffiths’ situation is perhaps the most pressing concern given his return of 13 goals from 21 appearances this season.
The striker is due to return to Wolverhampton Wanderers on 19 January, which means he will, fitness permitting, be available to play against former club Dundee in Hibs’ first game back after the break. McGivern and Claros have also been successful additions to the squad. Claros arrived just under a year ago on a 12-month deal from Motagua while McGivern arrived on loan in August from Manchester City.
Asked yesterday what time he turns to Plan B with regards to the continued lack of news on whether these players can be retained or not, Fenlon replied: “very shortly”. Indeed, he admitted that some moves have already been made to identify replacements. One report has credited Hibs with interest in St Johnstone midfielder Liam Craig, although Fenlon would not verify whether there was any truth in this yesterday.
The prospect of losing Griffiths has meant that some Hibs fans have greeted the news that both Gary O’Connor and Derek Riordan have recently been released from their clubs with some interest. However, Fenlon was adamant that neither former striker would make yet another return to Easter Road. “No chance,” he said.
Fenlon outlined the tight financial restrictions under which he is operating. Another lower-than-hoped-for crowd at Easter Road saw Hibs continue a run of poor form by going down 1-0 to Ross County in front of 8,980 spectators on Boxing Day. Chairman Rod Petrie has already made an appeal for at least 10,000 home fans to attend home matches.
Fenlon is alert to what this means. He has not even broached the question of taking the players away to a training camp for the winter break. He knows that it is one or the other – a trip abroad or squad additions. Given the continued uncertainty over the likes of Griffiths’ future the manager yesterday stressed that there is only one choice. In any case, Fenlon took the players away to his Dublin homeland in the run-up to the Scottish Cup final against Hearts last season and there was nothing in their performance in the 5-1 defeat to suggest this had been a good idea.
“We’re not in a position to go and take them away somewhere,” said Fenlon. “We’d like to do that but we can’t. We’ll give them a little break and then re-focus. I will try to see some games myself and look at players. It’s a chance to re-charge the batteries for everyone, players and staff.” Fenlon knew there was no point even approaching the board to ask whether it was possible to look into possible winter training camp destinations. “I know where we are financially and the answer would probably have been: ‘Do you want to go away or do you want a player?’” he said.
“I know where we are. I’m realistic enough to know what the priorities are – maybe try and strengthen the squad and give the current squad a help and a lift. I’d like to add a couple to it if we can. We’ll see where we are when we come to a conclusion about the loan players.”
He wants to know one way or the other very soon. Patience is wearing thin at the club. Negotiations are in the hands of Petrie, who in turn must deal with the directors at other clubs. “It is other people’s decisions, that is the frustrating aspect,” said Fenlon. “We cannot control the outcome.”
“They [the players’ loan deals] all expire within a week of each other, towards the end of January, between the 15th and the 21st roughly,” he added. “We are now at the stage where we have actively started to move on other options. We need to be able to bring in players if Leigh, Jorge and Ryan are not going to stay.
“I am confident that one or two of the loan players will stay,” he continued. “Whether we can keep the three, I’m not sure. We will probably have to move one or two out to bring new bodies in and we are actively trying to do that at the moment.”
Tomorrow’s match against Celtic at Easter Road means Hibs have an opportunity to make amends for a poor recent run at home, where they have lost their last three league matches. They have also not defeated Celtic at home since John Rankin’s self-styled ‘squiggler’ effort deceived Artur Boruc and helped Hibs to a 2-0 win in December 2008.
“That long?” said Fenlon, with a note of surprise. “I didn’t know that but the best way to look at it is we got a point the last time we played them and that’s the positive. They’re a good side. We’re under no illusions we’re going to have to play well to take something from the game.”