IN A season when an injury-time goal decided top-six placings, illustrating just how fine the line is between success and failure this term, where coupon-busting results have become de rigeur, and the sum of the parts has often triumphed over individual brilliance, the manager and player of the year awards were always likely to prompt fierce debate.
“I think what is certain is that, because there are so many candidates for the player and the manager, there will be plenty of debate even after the results are out,” says Hibs boss Pat Fenlon. “In the player [category] there’s probably six or seven and for the manager it’s probably about the same.”
Goalscorers are among the favourites for the players’ accolade. Niall McGinn, Michael Higdon, Billy McKay and Andrew Shinnie have all been championed, but Paul Hanlon, pictured, says he wasn’t able to vote for the man he thinks deserves it most. Banned from voting for team-mates, the Hibs defender is relying on others to recognise the worth of Leigh Griffiths.
“He is in with a right good chance. There have been a lot of good goal scorers – Higdon for Motherwell, McGinn for Aberdeen – but Leigh is up there with them and his goals have been massive. I would hate to think where we would be if we didn’t have his goals.”
Fenlon agrees. “Leigh has has been great for us this season so it doesn’t surprise me that he is involved in the debate,” he says.
“In the manager category, it took me a while to decide who to go for. There’s Neil Lennon, but there’s also Danny Lennon – he’s won a trophy. Then there’s Terry Butcher, Derek Adams, Stuart McCall, and going down the leagues you look at what Queen of the South have done, and there’s Jackie McNamara with Partick Thistle for most of the season and he has done well since going to Dundee United. It’s a difficult one this year, there’s a lot of candidates but that’s good for the game because that means there has been a lot of good stuff going on.”
That has made it harder for him to select a winner but it has also made it impossible for his side to achieve their pre-season goal. That was to make it into the top six. One win in their last 12 league games put paid to that but Fenlon says if they can finish seventh, the fact they have made it to their second successive Scottish Cup final and secured European football as a consequence means there is still an improvement on last year.
Hanlon says there is already proof of that in performances this term, even in last weekend’s cup semi-final. The days of being over-run are gone, he maintains, saying that although they fell 3-0 behind Falkirk at Hampden, their fightback underlines that. “There were times in the past when we found ourselves in that position and there was no way back,” says Hanlon. “We have got character and we dug in deep.” The final whistle delivered merely relief rather than joy, though.
“You could tell the fans were not happy,” says Hanlon. “You can see the supporters leaving and rightly so. We were 3-0 down to a First Division team and we shouldn’t be in that position. They were entitled to voice their opinions. I know some of the fans that left. One was my mate and I thought ‘fair enough’. But I’m sure they were a wee bit gutted that they missed the comeback though.”
Having missed out on the top six, they have another comeback to conjure up, starting tomorrow against Aberdeen. They want seventh place. But just like the manager and player awards, there are a few candidates vying for the same thing.