ROY O’DONOVAN knows all about Hibs boss Pat Fenlon’s reputation as a hard-to-please manager, one who demands the very best from his players – and he couldn’t be happier.
For the Easter Road new boy believes that’s exactly what he needs having endured a rollercoaster career since “crossing the water” to join Sunderland from Cork City five years ago.
Persuaded by Irish legend Roy Keane to sign for the Black Cats having scored 31 goals in 74 league appearances for his hometown club, O’Donovan has found himself constantly on the move.
Loan spells with Dundee United, Blackpool, Southend United and Hartlepool came to an end as new Coventry City boss Aidy Boothroyd snapped him up.
Now Hibs have become his seventh club since 2007, the 26-year-old agreeing a loan deal at Easter Road until the end of the season with the belief that in Edinburgh, and under Fenlon, he’ll find the fresh start he’s been seeking for so long.
Although he didn’t play for Fenlon in Ireland, O’Donovan knows him well, the Dubliner having become one of his country’s most successful managers ever with Shelbourne Rovers and Bohemians.
He said: “I feel this is a great opportunity for me, I’m really excited by it.
“I could easily have stayed at Coventry, letting my contract run down and not playing but having played against Pat Fenlon teams in the past I know he is a stickler for hard work, for getting the best out of his players and hopefully he’ll do that with me.
“He’s a hard taskmaster, you never get anything easy off a Pat Fenlon team, that’s for sure. He has had great success, he was five minutes away from qualifying for the Champions’ League against Deportivo La Coruna going back a few years.
“He knows how the get the best out of players on limited finances so I have great respect for him and that was a big factor in me coming here.”
A youth academy player with Coventry, O’Donovan returned to Cork, capturing the League of Ireland championship in his first season, one which, coincidentally, contained a friendly against Hibs at Turners Cross.
He recalled: “I remember us playing for the Capital of Culture Cup, the weather was horrendous but it was a good game. It finished 3-3 and we won on penalties.”
Two seasons with Cork in which he also enjoyed European football earned him that move to Sunderland for a then record League of Ireland transfer fee of ¤500,000.
He said: “I was down to sign for Fulham but Roy Keane came in for me at the last hour, I had a chat with him and signed for Sunderland. I had a good first season but it’s tough coming from the League of Ireland to England, the pace of the game, the power of the players but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“But it is fair to say things have been a bit up and down and that, I think, comes from playing games. Any striker will tell you if he is getting a run of five, six, seven or eight games then all of a sudden fitness, confidence and form are better.
“However, I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have had that in the last five or six years. I’ve been lucky enough in that some managers have given me such a run, others have not. When I’ve got that run of games I have shown what I can do.
“In other positions on the pitch you probably play 90 per cent of the time, but with strikers if you are not on a run of form and not 6ft 2in where they can just land the ball on the top of your head from anywhere on the pitch you are going to be fighting for your place unless you are banging in the goals.”
O’Donovan, for all the hard knocks he’s had, firmly believes both he and his can enjoy a change of luck over the next few months. He said: “It’s not for the want of trying or lack of hard work. You have to be philosophical about it and say if you work hard and do the right things then eventually the luck is going to change.
“I still have belief in my ability and feel I can do well. It’s all about getting a turn of games in the right team so hopefully I can do that here.
“This is a wonderful club which has perhaps had a difficult 18 months where results have been harder to come by than down through the years. It’s a fantastic club, one which is well-supported and has everything in place but perhaps it’s needed a bit of change because sometimes when it’s been the same team fighting relegation for the last 12 to 18 months that bit of confidence goes.
“Now we’ve got a number of players coming in, I feel I’m coming into something fresh and hopefully I can help play my part.”
New he might be to Easter Road, but O’Donovan has experience of the SPL through a short, if unhappy spell at Tannadice during which he enjoyed a 2-0 win over tomorrow’s opponents Aberdeen, a repeat of which he admits wouldn’t go amiss as Hibs battle to haul themselves away from the foot of the SPL table.
The breath-taking speed of change which has engulfed modern day football, however, means that only Darren Mackie remains of the Dons side that day in November, 2008, while two faces which would have been familiar to O’Donovan, Pittodrie defender Russell Anderson and midfielder Isaac Osbourne – brother of Hibs star Isaiah – will be missing through injury.
He said: “I know Russell from Sunderland and Isaac from Coventry and a few others having played against them. It would have been good to have played against them but we want the best chance we can have to win the game and the more senior players they have missing the better it will be for us.”
Relegation rivals Dunfermline may have pulled themselves onto the shoulders of Fenlon’s team – the two clubs now separated only by goal difference – thanks to their draw against Kilmarnock in midweek, but O’Donovan insisted he and his team-mates cannot allow themselves to be distracted by what the Pars might or might not do.
He said: “We have to focus entirely on our own games. Let’s concentrate on ourselves tomorrow and as long as we are working hard, have our minds and do the right things then hopefully the results will follow.
“We can’t worry about anyone else, we can’t have any bearing on what they are doing unless we are playing them, we’ll take care of ourselves and worry about Dunfermline in May.”