Hibs boss Pat Fenlon has revealed he has just one wish for tomorrow’s Scottish Cup final – that his Easter Road side simply do themselves justice.
Although the 5-1 hammering by Hearts in last year’s final was bad enough, Fenlon admitted he was even more disappointed that his players simply had not competed against their arch-rivals.
Although the Capital outfit face SPL champions Celtic as very much the underdogs as they return to Hampden for a second year in succession, Fenlon insisted they’ll “have a go” rather than seek to shut up shop and hope for a lucky break.
Speaking at the national stadium, he said: “We’ve got to come here and give a performance – that’s the be all and end all – and hope it’s good enough on the day. We didn’t do that last year. The most disappointing thing was that we didn’t perform to a level that we felt we could get to.
“We’ve worked tremendously hard to get back to the final with the games we’ve had to play, so we’ve got to back that up and make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste. We have to give a performance that’s befitting the club.”
Although the first all- Edinburgh Cup final in 116 years ended in abject failure for Hibs, Fenlon revealed there was a silver lining as far as the Easter Road club was concerned in that the money earned helped him begin the radical overhaul of his squad which those traumatic 90 minutes against Hearts demanded.
He said: “We’ve changed the players and there aren’t many left from last year. After the final, we made the decision that it was time for change and that’s the key. We’ve got a different group and attitude-wise and mentality-wise, they’re well able to deal with this.
“When we came in we had to make sure we stayed in the league, In a way, if we had beaten Dunfermline and lost to Aberdeen in the semi-final, it probably would have been easier and better. People would have thought, ‘that was quite good, we stayed up and made the semi-final’.
“But getting to the Cup final helped us financially to bring in some of the players that we have now. So there are good things that came out of having a good cup run. It means we could sign better players that we maybe might not have if we hadn’t reached the final.”
Fenlon hopes this year’s cup exploits – with all five of Hibs’ matches being televised live – will help persuade chairman Rod Petrie to again give the thumbs-up to further additions to his squad, but he knows full well that financial considerations will take a back seat in comparison to ending Hibs 111-year wait to lift the Scottish Cup.
As always, exiled Hibs fans are trekking home from the four corners of the globe, from New Zealand and Australia, the United States and Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, Brazil, Nigeria and all round Europe as well as the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland, a fact well-known to Fenlon and his players who realise just how much joy they could bring, not just in Edinburgh, but world-wide should they finally end their hoodoo.
Fenlon said: “When you talk to people outside of Scotland, they find it hard to believe that it’s actually that long. It’s one of those things, it’s there to be broken I suppose. Whoever does it, it will obviously be fantastic. Hopefully it is us. The club is a big club, It’s a big club in Scotland and that spreads out around the world. A lot of people who leave the city or leave Scotland are Hibs fans. Generations of people haven’t seen Hibs win the Cup. It doesn’t add to it or cause me a problem. You’d send a lot of people away happy if you could do it.
“I think the players are well aware now that there is massive history with the club in relation to the cup. They couldn’t affect anything that’s gone by, but they can change history. It’s a real positive for them to look at – there’s a chance for them to become history-makers.
“I’ve been here 18 months now, maybe a little bit longer, and we’ve got to two cup finals. It’s not a bad effort, but if we can win it, it puts all that to bed. That’s the important thing – it gives us a chance to break that and make sure people don’t talk about it in the future.”
When it was pointed out that both Jock Stein and Eddie Turnbull hadn’t won the cup as manager of Hibs, Fenlon replied: “I’d never thought about it that way. If you could win it, and Jock Stein hasn’t won it, well then it’s a fair old achievement all right.
“Personally, it would be great to be the manager to do that. You get to know a lot of the supporters and it would be lovely to be able to change that for people and have people leave here knowing that it’s gone. If we could do it, it would be fantastic for everybody.”
There is, of course, one small obstacle standing in the way – a Celtic side gunning for a league and cup double. But while accepting Neil Lennon’s side are firm favourites, Fenlon firmly believes his side possesses enough threat to pull off what would be regarded by many as a shock result. He did concede, however, that his players simply couldn’t afford the same slow starts they made against Hearts and again in this season’s semi-final when they found themselves trailing by three goals to First Division Falkirk within 30 minutes.
He said: “We’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen again, as, given the team we are up against, we won’t get away with that. It happens in games sometimes, whether it is at Hampden or anywhere else. You just have to make sure you start the game properly.
“Everyone talks about making sure you compete for the first ten to 15 minutes of the game, let people know you are around. That’s my job to work on that and make sure that when we get on the park tomorrow we’re fired up and ready to play.
“I think we have to be on the front foot and make sure we get about Celtic and make it difficult for them. We know the qualities they have. They have players all over the park that can cause you problems, but we’ve got some good players in our team that can cause them problems too.
“We have to match their determination and effort and make sure we are committed to the game. That was the problem last year. Hearts started really well and we didn’t do that. When we get into that tunnel we have to be ready to play.”
Hibs captain James McPake will be missing after failing to recover sufficiently from the back injury that has ruled him out in recent weeks. Teenager Jordon Forster could continue in central defence, but Tim Clancy is in contention after training this week following a month out with a groin problem, although he has not done as much as his team-mates. Adam Matthews is out of Celtic’s squad, the Wales defender unable to shrug off a hamstring complaint which has kept him out since March.
Midfielders Victor Wanyama and Beram Kayal are suspended, while defender Charlie Mulgrew (knee) and winger James Forrest (hamstring) will be assessed.