The 27-year-old made a massive impact after arriving at Easter Road on loan for the second half of the season. He was immediately handed the captain’s armband by boss Pat Fenlon before leading Hibs to SPL safety and the final of the Scottish Cup. His performances in a green and white shirt earned him a call-up from Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill – the former Livingston defender is eligible through his grandfather, also James, who was born in County Antrim – which has put him in line for an international debut in today’s friendly with Holland in Amsterdam. However, negotiations to bring him back to Edinburgh next season have stalled, leaving McPake with the prospect of returning to Coventry City where he has a year of his contract with a side newly relegated to Football League One.
Discussions between Hibs and Coventry, who are desperate to cut their wage bill, have continued to take place although, according to the Sky Blues development director Steve Waggott, the issue remains “very much up in the air.” Waggott, though, insisted that “to all intents and purposes” McPake remains a Coventry player and, as such, was expected to be returning for pre-season training on July 1.
But he’s anticipating further contact from Hibs and is also expecting McPake’s arrival on the international scene will attract attention from elsewhere. The Evening News understands that, while McPake is aware of interest from both north and south of the Border, returning to Easter Road remains very much his first choice and he’s hopeful a deal between the clubs and personal terms can be agreed.
Waggott said: “We have had a discussion with Hibs about the next steps for James but that’s very much up in the air at the moment and to all intents and purposes he’s still a Coventry player and will be returning for pre-season. No doubt there will be more discussions with Hibs and with the international call-up I am sure there will be interest from other clubs.”
City boss Andy Thorn will, of course, be instrumental in any decision, McPake having been limited to six games with Coventry last season in a squad which included five recognised centre-halves. But Thorn appeared to indicate he won’t stand in McPake’s way provided an agreement can be reached. He said: “They [Hibs] made him captain and if they want to get something together I am sure they’ll sort something out. It’s down to figures if they can afford him.”
Meanwhile, McPake’s City team-mate Roy O’Donovan, who joined him on loan at Easter Road, appears to be on his way out of the Ricoh Arena despite having a year left on his deal. The Irishman has been linked with a move to Northampton Town to join up again with Aidy Boothroyd, who signed him for Coventry but played him just three times.