Hibs boss Neil Lennon: We don't want to let cup go
Thanks to the efforts of his predecessor and many of the players still at the club, Neil Lennon was not subjected to such a query when he arrived at Easter Road, the hoodoo having been heaved off their back courtesy of the last-gasp winner by David Gray, pictured, at Hampden on 21 May.
Instead, as Hibs prepare to face Bonnyrigg Rose in the first match of their defence of the trophy, Lennon was in relatively uncharted territory as he was asked how much he would like to retain the silverware the club had taken so long to get their hands on.
The uniqueness of the situation was not lost on him. Although he wasn’t at the helm for the victory, he has benefited from the positivity resulting from the achievement and throughout his time at the club he has witnessed the ongoing celebrations and learned just how much the trophy success meant to players, staff and fans.
As well as the joy, he says the relief was also evident. “They had broken that taboo and ended 114 years without a win so people were always going to talk about it. The Hibs fans can bask in the glory of that day but I would like to do it again. It is a tall order, obviously, but in cup football anything can happen.
“There was a psychological barrier but we got through it and it just meant so much to everyone involved and once you have had that taste of success then you want more.
“I think Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen might have a say in that or any other club as there have been five different winners in the past five years but, yeah, why not. It’s not our priority, obviously, but it is well up there. The players had one of the best days of their lives last year so why not aim for that again. Once you have a hold of something, you don’t want to let it go and you don’t realise what you will miss until it’s gone.”
On paper they have been handed a fairly easy opening match, facing up to non-league minnows Bonnyrigg Rose. But, with Rose having ousted Championship Dumbarton in the previous round, Lennon wants his players to understand and remain vigilant of the threat posed by the underdogs.
He’s a man with plenty of winner’s medals from a playing career that rained silverware at Celtic. But having been on the receiving end of cup upsets, perhaps most notably when the then cup holders’ dreams of retaining the silverware were stunted by defeat by lowly Clyde in 2006, he knows that success does not always breed success, if standards are allowed to dip.
“I have had a few [cup shocks] as a player and as a manager and it is not nice and I watched Ipswich lose to Lincoln this week in the FA Cup so it can happen,” he said. “If you are not right and you don’t apply yourself and don’t play well and if you believe you can just turn up and think everything will be alright then you are in for a rude awakening.
“We want to make that pretty clear to the players. It is their cup and they have got to want it and I am pretty sure that they do. If we win then we are expected to win and if we don’t then we are looking at a giant killing so we are treating the game very seriously, we are the cup holders and obviously we want to defend it as strongly as we can.”
Candid enough to admit that the cup has not been foremost in his mind, with the Championship title and promotion the priority, the Hibs head coach says due importance will be bestowed on tomorrow’s tie against the Midlothian Juniors, at a packed Tynecastle, where the yellow card shown in the aftermath of the goal celebrations by Gray in May means he will be suspended.
“Now that the competition has come around I want to make a good fist of it,” Lennon added. “We will field a strong team as we want to win the tie and we want to keep the momentum going that we have built up over the last few weeks. We are not taking Bonnyrigg lightly.
“There is a lot at stake for us anyway but it is a big tie for Bonnyrigg as well and they have knocked Dumbarton out who gave us a hell of game last week so, this is not going to be easy. It is not a gimme.
“The players have to try to forget about last year for the time being. You will never completely forget that day, no-one who is associated with the club will or even a lot of people in Scottish football, but for the coming months we have got to look ahead.”