Early runners left behind in race for the Hibs hot seat

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MORE than a fortnight after Hibernian began the process of identifying Colin Calderwood’s successor, two early favourites for the manager’s post appear to be out of the running, having not been contacted by the Easter Road club.

Michael O’Neill will this morning occupy a seat on a plane bound for Sweden as he takes his Shamrock Rovers side to play a friendly match against Malmo in preparation for next week’s resumption of Europa League games.

Jim Jefferies, meanwhile, has not been contacted by Hibs and neither has he applied for the job. The former Hearts manager has said he is not prepared to answer the question of whether or not he would take the Hibs job unless someone from the Easter Road club was to make contact with him – “and that has never happened”.

Both men featured heavily in early speculation about who might succeed Calderwood, who was sacked earlier this month after a 1-0 defeat against Dunfermline. O’Neill remains second favourite with most bookmakers behind fellow Irish candidate Pat Fenlon, who is currently in charge of Bohemians. Fenlon’s odds have been relaxed slightly since last week when he was strongly backed to be appointed at Easter Road.

O’Neill would be a popular choice among fans but he is continuing with his duties at Shamrock Rovers prior to two up-coming Europa League appointments against Rubin Kazan and Tottenham Hotspur.

Rovers have not received an approach from Hibs, something which would be required in light of O’Neill’s current contractual situation. His present deal has weeks to run. O’Neill himself said it was “business as usual with Rovers” yesterday prior to travelling to Sweden for tomorrow night’s friendly game. Interim Hibernian manager Billy Brown cannot complain about distractions as he continues preparation for this weekend’s match at St Johnstone. The customary quilt of silence has fallen upon the club as the Easter Road board sift through applications.

Given that he volunteered the information, Brown is the only candidate who it is confirmed has been interviewed by the Easter Road board. This weekend’s match at McDiarmid Park is a crucial one as far as Brown is concerned as he attempts to make sufficient impact to secure the job until the end of the season at least. Brown’s first match in charge saw Hibs come from behind to draw 1-1 with Kilmarnock at Easter Road on Saturday.

Jefferies, his former managerial ally, yesterday played down talk that he and Brown would be re-united at Easter Road. Jefferies thanked former Hibs stalwarts such as Pat Stanton for presenting his case but said the question of him making an intriguing switch to Easter Road was a redundant one without official contact from the club itself.

“People have said some nice things regarding my ability and credentials to do the job,” he said. “But they have said it and not me. What I have said is that I have a lot of respect for all clubs. If someone contacts me to ask if I am interested in the job, I would tell them yes or no. Until then I don’t think about it, because I thought, up until lately, that I would be the last person to get the [Hibs] job for obvious reasons.

“But it seems to have grown arms and legs because Billy got the job as assistant, and the assumption is that I would follow on. I took in Billy’s first game [as Hibs assistant manager]. People started to put two and two together. And then names got banded about when Colin left, and because Billy was there and I was out of a job all the boxes were ticked as far as some people were concerned. But I never made any comment. And I never applied for the job. If someone in an official capacity phoned me, I will tell them whether I am interested or not – that has never happened. I don’t anticipate it happening because you would think it might have been done by now.”

Jefferies, who has been approached about an opportunity abroad, believes that Brown is in pole position. “Billy’s gone in there and for me, because he is the man in position, he has a real chance,” he said. “I think Billy would like it done quickly, if it is him or anyone else. He has inherited players who have been brought in by Colin, and players who were there before then. You can’t judge Billy on two or three games.

“The more games that pass by, if you don’t win them, then it becomes difficult. It shouldn’t be that way but it often works out that way. That’s the nature of the game. It’s ridiculous. You are either good enough or you are not good enough. He’s obviously been many years with me at No 1. And he’s yet to make a mark at No 1. And, after many years with me, he is hoping to get that chance.”