HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon has expressed his sadness at the departure of Billy Brown as his assistant and insists the move was made solely on a financial basis.
Brown, who joined Hibs as assistant to Colin Calderwood last September and then had a spell as caretaker manager before Fenlon’s arrival in November, left the club at the end of last month when he was told his contract would not be renewed.
Fenlon, who brought first team coach Liam O’Brien to Hibs with him when he joined last season, has praised Brown’s contribution and stressed that the decision to let him go was no reflection on their relationship.
“Billy was fantastic when I came in,” said Fenlon. “He was a tremendous help to us last season, but it was just something we couldn’t do financially this season. I’d have loved to be able to keep him here but were not in a position to do it.
“That’s where it’s at, there’s no grey areas to it. That’s the bottom line and it is a blow to us. There are other people who have left the club as well and we just have to move on. It just means there’s a bit more work for everyone else. Some people will have to do things that weren’t in their remit last year.
“When you work with someone day to day and get close to them, it’s a very tough thing to do. I had a good relationship with Billy. When you are a manager, these things will come along. It was a similar situation with Ian Murray, who had been at the club as a player for a long time.
“They are difficult decisions but you have to make them. There is nothing personal in them. You just have to make what you think is the best decision for the benefit of the club.
“It’s the horrible side of football, the nasty side of it. If you are going to be a manager, you have to accept it.”
Fenlon is currently engaged in a major restructuring of his squad in the wake of the calamitous end to last season which saw Hibs crushed 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final by Hearts after narrowly avoiding relegation from the SPL.
The Dubliner admits the Hampden horror show is an experience he will struggle to put behind him but is determined to use it as added motivation for his efforts to transform Hibs’ fortunes in the forthcoming campaign.
“I haven’t watched the game again and I don’t plan to at all,” said Fenlon. “I don’t know if you get over something like that. You put it to the back of your mind but, every now and then, it will pop up to keep you on your toes.
“It wasn’t nice for anyone, less nice for the supporters than it was for me. It’s something you can use to remind you of the bad times and make sure you get things right. We know where Hibs have been as a club for a couple of seasons now, so we need to improve that quickly and make sure we put smiles back on the faces of our fans.
“We need to try and get the connection back with our supporters. You could feel it when we played Dunfermline at Easter Road at the end of the season, the game we won to make sure we stayed in the SPL. I wish the season could have ended then, because there was a massive feelgood factor.
“That went after the cup final, obviously, and it’s about us giving it back to the fans now. We have to make them proud of the club they follow. The cup final showed where the club was and we need a fair bit of change.
“Around 14 players have left the club since then and we won’t be able to bring in that many. What we need is to bring in players of proper ability but also ones with the right mentality to take us forward. Lots of players have been offered to us but we haven’t jumped into signing them because it’s important we get the right ones.”
Fenlon made his fourth signing of the summer yesterday, goalkeeper Ben Williams added to the captures of midfielder Paul Cairney and defenders Tim Clancy and James McPake. Landing a striker is now his priority, a process he says is being hampered by the current financial fears in Scottish football as the immediate fate of Rangers hangs in the balance.
“A striker is clearly vital for us,” he added. “We only have Eoin Doyle, plus a couple of young lads in Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling, so it’s important we pick up an experienced striker. We are talking to one or two at the moment but it’s slow because people are reluctant to make commitments. It’s understandable, the way things are. The uncertainty in the game is affecting everyone.”
Full-back Alan Maybury and midfielder Mark Kerr, free agents after spending last season with St Johnstone and Dunfermline respectively, continue to train with Hibs but no contract offer is imminent for either player.
“They are two good lads and we are having a look at them,” said Fenlon, “but we are not in a position to do anything with either of them at the moment. We’ll wait and see if that changes.”
Fenlon is satisfied with the signing of goalkeeper Williams, having released Graham Stack at the end of the season and with Mark Brown yet to agree a new deal.
“It was vitally important we got another goalkeeper in,” he said. “I’ve been aware or Ben for a long time and he fits the bill. He is experienced and is the type of character we want. I’m still hoping Mark Brown will stay but that’s up to his agent and the board now.”
Hibs are scheduled to play their first pre-season fixture against Romanian side Rapid Bucharest tonight, subject to a pitch inspection at Grangemouth Stadium, which has been badly affected by rain.