Hibs Under-20 coach James McDonaugh will have one “new” face in the depleted Easter Road squad he will take for the first day of pre-season training on Monday with the return after almost two years on loan of Callum Booth.
The former Scotland Under-21 defender found himself ostracised under former boss Pat Fenlon, cast out on loan to Livingston and then Raith Rovers only for Booth to return to haunt Hibs as a member of the Stark’s Park oufit which knocked Terry Butcher’s side out of last season’s Scottish Cup. Butcher saw enough of the 23-year-old that day, though, to tell Booth he wanted him back for the final season of his contract.
He will report to East Mains to find Hibs in a state of flux, awaiting a successor to Butcher, while McDonaugh will be working with only 15 recognised first-team players in a squad which doesn’t include any goalkeepers as Ben Williams, Sean Murdoch and Paul Grant were all released by the big Englishman when their contracts came to an end.
As the Capital club started to come to terms with the fact they will be playing Championship football next season following their astonishing collapse in the second half of the last campaign, Butcher let 14 players go, including former club captain James McPake and experienced midfielder Kevin Thomson, both of whom have been snapped up by Premiership new boys Dundee. That figure rose to 15 as Hibs agreed a deal to allow misfiring striker James Collins, signed only ten months ago for £200,000, to join his former club Shrewsbury.
Others such as McPake’s successor as skipper, Liam Craig, were understood to have been told they were free to leave if they could find new employers despite still having time to run on their current deals. However, new chief executive Leeann Dempster has since instructed players in that situation they’ll be expected on the training ground on Monday, saying: “They are under contract at the minute. We want them all back.”
Butcher’s replacement – Dempster is believed to have a shortlist of four under consideration after receiving more than 40 applications for the post – will, nevertheless, face a race against time to bring fresh faces to Easter Road with the start of the new season barely a month away. The players McDonaugh will expect to see on Monday morning are Jordon Forster, Michael Nelson, Paul Hanlon, Ryan McGivern, Lewis Stevenson, Callum Booth, Alex Harris, Scott Robertson, Liam Craig, Owain Tudur Jones, Sam Stanton, Danny Handling, Paul Heffernan, Jason Cummings and Ross Caldwell but no doubt all 15 will be wondering what the future holds for them with yet another new boss to impress, their third in only seven months.