Hibs star Tim Clancy freely admits he had the time of his life in a Motherwell shirt, but those days will be nothing more than a happy memory as he returns to Fir Park for the first time on Friday night.
In the claret and amber, the Irish-born defender became a local hero as the Lanarkshire outfit finished “best of the rest,” claiming a shot at qualifying for the Champions League following Rangers’ fall from grace.
Clancy, however, turned his back on the prospect of Euro glory after just one season with Stuart McCall’s side, deciding instead to pen a two-year contract at Easter Road, a move which raised many an eyebrow given eight places and almost 30 points had separated the clubs at the end of last season.
But today Clancy insisted he had no regrets, adamant he had made the right decision for both himself and his family, although he is well aware of the reception he’s likely to get from those fans who hailed him and his team-mates only a few months ago.
He said: “I’ve always said last season was the most enjoyable of my career. The fans were brilliant, it was a fantastic season, I enjoyed it greatly but now I am looking forward to going back.
“It’s always a big one when you go back to a club you once played with for the first time. I had the same playing against Kilmarnock after four years at Rugby Park.”
Clancy admitted he found it tough to tell McCall he wouldn’t be extending his short stay with Motherwell, but he insisted he is looking forward to enjoying success on his old stomping ground with Hibs rather than dwelling on the past.
He said: “I played a few fair games for Stuart. He’s a brilliant manager and has done a brilliant job, reaching a cup final and finishing third, the best of the rest, which is great considering the budget he has and the fact his squad is quite small.
“Obviously I spoke to him on a few occasions and while it wasn’t easy to leave, I think I have made the right decision and I am happy with how it has gone.”
Despite the gulf which separated Hibs from Motherwell last season, the matches between the two were far tighter affairs than that chasm might suggest, the Capital club knocking the Steelmen out of the League Cup in a dramatic penalty shoot-out but doing less well in the SPL, losing 1-0 at Easter Road where they also drew with McCall’s team.
Hibs’ titanic struggle to stave off the threat of relegation meant they only had one trip to Fir Park, their initial visit being new boss Pat Fenlon’s first match in charge and one which came to a premature and unexpected end as a fire in one of the floodlight pylons in the stand occupied by the visiting fans caused the game to be abandoned at half-time for safety reasons.
Fenlon’s team were leading 1-0 at that point thanks to a strike by Garry O’Connor and, given the way Hibs’ season continued to unravel thereafter, many were left wondering, and probably still are to this day, how things might have panned out had the entire 90 minutes been played.
Today Clancy revealed there was more than a hint of relief in the home dressing-room that night as word filtered through that the game had been abandoned. The match was one of the SPL’s experimental Friday night fixtures and this week’s match will bring back memories of December 2 last year.
As it was, Motherwell won the rearranged match 4-3, Hibs taking an early lead through Isaiah Osbourne only to find themselves 4-1 down before goals by Matt Doherty and Ivan Sproule almost salvaged a point.
He said: “I was on the bench that night and, to be honest, I think Hibs might have gone on to win it. They were 1-0 up and playing well while Motherwell hadn’t really started. The lads felt they hadn’t performed at all and were looking forward to going back out, but perhaps given they won the rearranged game it wasn’t a bad thing for them.
“Regardless, the safety of the fans was of the paramount importance that night. It was one of those things you don’t expect to happen, but when it does you don’t really know what to think.
“It would only be natural for Pat Fenlon to perhaps look back on that game and wonder how the rest of the season might have gone from there on in had it been played to an end with Hibs winning. But there’s nothing anyone could do about it. There’s no point looking back and wondering what if.”
Given his recent association with Motherwell, Clancy is probably better placed than any in Fenlon’s new-look Hibs side to assess the task facing the Edinburgh club as they seek to improve an away record which, despite their promising start to the season, reads as just one out of five games on the road.
He said: “Every game in this league is tight. At the moment all the teams are beating each other. This weekend sees the first round of fixtures completed and there doesn’t seem to be anything between the clubs. There’s never a match you go into thinking you might be able to coast through it.”
Recent matches between Hibs and Motherwell have provided plenty of goals – just think back to that 6-6 draw at Fir Park – and Clancy believes Friday’s game could provide plenty more entertainment. He said: “The games last season were pretty open. Both teams have exciting players going forward.
“Motherwell have the likes of Michael Higdon, Nicky Law, Jamie Murphy, Omar Daley, Chris Humphrey, and Henrik Ojamaa, but the more space we get on the pitch the better we do. It looks set up to be an attacking game, but while it will be hard, hopefully, if we have the right application, then we have that fair bit of quality up front to get us that win.”