THE last time Hibernian won the Scottish Cup was so long ago that many of their present-day supporters must have given up hope of ever seeing the trophy won again. For those defiant optimists who remain, however, there is one good omen to contemplate as they look ahead to this season’s competition: the last time Hibs won the cup was the only time before last week that they had an Irishman as manager.
The man in question, Dan McMichael, was in fact the first manager appointed by the club, fully a quarter of a century on from its foundation. And he was no ordinary manager either, serving at Easter Road in a variety of offices for almost 30 years, from the early 1890s until his untimely death in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919.
Indeed, even at the height of his fame, after he had won the Scottish Cup in 1902, McMichael continued to muck in. At the start of the following season, an English journalist arrived at Easter Road in search of an interview. Unable to find the manager, he asked groundsman Paddy Cannon for help.
“That’s him over there.” Cannon said. “The chap painting the goalposts.”
The anecdote, related in Alan Lugton’s book The Making Of Hibernian, will be a familiar tale in one respect to Pat Fenlon, the club’s new manager. At his last club, cash-strapped Bohemians, Fenlon, too, had to carry out a number of duties not normally the lot of a modern boss.
The similarities may end there, at least for the moment, between McMichael and the latest man to succeed him in the Hibs hotseat. But there is little doubt that the force of personality shown by the club’s first manager should remain a useful example for his fellow Irishman Fenlon, and for the current crop of players as well.
Born around 1860, McMichael migrated to Scotland as a young man, finding work in Leith as a ship’s carpenter. When Hibs ran into financial difficulties in the 1890s, he helped get them settle on a more stable footing.
But, if McMichael had just been an able treasurer, secretary and physiotherapist at the club, as well as an occasional painter of goalposts, he would hardly be recalled today. Instead, his fame rests on his achievements as manager, a post he held in two spells, 1900-03, and then from 1904 until his death. Even after the threat to their existence was over, Hibs remained short of cash, but McMichael was undeterred by the lack of funds to build his squad.
“I don’t need money to buy stars,” he said once. “Hibernian create their own stars.”
That assertion was proven correct in 1902, when Hibs defeated Celtic at Parkhead in what was called the “all Irish Scottish Cup final”.
And, lest any doubters remained, further proof was given when McMichael’s Hibs side went on to win the league in 1903.
But, as the Old Firm’s stranglehold on the game grew, McMichael was unable to win further honours. More than a century later, it remains to be seen if another Irishman can bring similar fortune to the success-starved club.