Hibs may be reluctant to let Leigh Griffiths speak to the media these days, but when he was let loose in the Hampden mixed zone after Saturday’s remarkable semi-final win over Falkirk, the talismanic striker inadvertently did his club yet another favour.
Some of the Hibs hierarchy may have cringed when they awoke on Sunday morning to read back-page headlines like “Brawl or Nothing” and “Punch-up for the Cup” accompanying Griffiths’ revelations that “a few boys were close to throwing punches” during the half-time interval.
Most players, when asked what it was like at half-time, would have opted for a predictably lame soundbite like “there were a few harsh words” or “the gaffer gave us a rollicking”, but Griffiths, refreshingly, told it like it was and delivered the sort of genuine insight that would have given Hibs fans some much-needed reassurance about the mentality of their team on a weekend when they once again diced with calamity.
In an era when footballers are so often accused of not caring, it would have come as welcome news to most Hibbies that their players had some fire in their bellies and were genuinely perturbed by the manner of their first-half display. The fact they endured the ignominy of being booed onto the pitch by their own fans after the break, yet still went on to stage a rousing revival shows that this team, despite their alarming league form of late, is made of far sterner stuff than their recent powder-puff predecessors in a green-and-white jersey. That in itself goes down as a feather in the cap of the opinion-dividing Pat Fenlon.
There will be those who dwell on the catastrophic first half, but, to borrow a line from ‘Ali In the Jungle’ by The Hours, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And Hibs, to their credit, finished like a train, while Falkirk’s young whipper-snappers ran out of steam. For all that Hibs were abysmal in the first half, they’re certainly not the first middling, low-on-confidence SPL team to get the runaround from a vibrant First Division side who, embracing the underdog tag, raise their game to a level they rarely manage on week-to-week league business. Many of these young Falkirk players, once they develop the required consistency and staying power, will surely go on and have better careers than some of the current Hibs players.
Of course, that is no excuse for Hibs being so lethargic in the first half, but the fact they made amends should override what went on in the first 45 minutes. They did to Falkirk after the break what Falkirk had done to them in the first half and, ultimately, proved too strong. There will be those who, on the back of the struggles in the league, question Fenlon, and he was arguably guilty of picking too many functional central midfielders with not enough attacking instinct, but, to his credit, he was swift and decisive in making the necessary substitutions to help alter the flow of the game and make Hibs a more dynamic and dangerous proposition.
Any doubts about the manager’s suitability for the role should instantly be quashed by the fact that, in his 17 months at the helm, he has led Hibs to back-to-back Scottish Cup finals for the first time since the 1920s, while also transforming them from relegation candidates to, until a fortnight ago, top-six contenders.
After their alarming first-half display, Hibs were at their resilient, defiant best in the second half on Saturday. If they can bottle that spirit, they are not without a chance of exorcising their Scottish Cup demons against an evidently erratic Celtic side next month.