If Pat Fenlon’s credentials were impressive, it took just one look into the Irishman’s eyes for Hibs chairman Rod Petrie to realise the stare being returned was that of a winner.
The 42-year-old became the latest manager of the Easter Road club almost three weeks after his predecessor Colin Calderwood was sacked, appointed after what Petrie described as an exhaustive and thorough search, one which had begun with more than 90 applications for the vacant post.
Slowly but surely the directors charged with leading the hunt for a new manager, Fife Hyland and Scott Lindsay, had whittled away at that lengthy list, taking soundings from “important and influential” people at home and abroad.
Eventually Fenlon was one of at least two interviewed, his current club Bohemians having opened the way for talks to begin by giving him permission to speak to Hibs. But while the success he had brought to both “Bohs” and another Dublin-based club Shelbourne – five league titles and three cups not to mention many nights of European football – all stood Fenlon in very good stead, Petrie revealed meeting him face-to-face had swung everything in his favour.
Asked what qualities Hibs had been seeking in their new manager, Petrie said: “First of all you look at his track record and experience, that tells you a little bit about where he has been and what he has done.
“You look at the statistics and comparative statistics and then you meet the guy and look into his eyes you see that he is a winner and you understand how he has achieved what he has achieved at different clubs and in different, sometimes challenging, circumstances.
“Pat has come through all that and is a very positive guy with very strong leadership qualities, very much a winner.”
As has been well documented, Fenlon has become Hibs fifth manager in just four years, succeeding not only Calderwood but John Hughes, Mixu Paatelainen and John Collins, leaving Petrie open to the charge that he and his fellow directors must have seen strikingly similar qualities in each of their previous appointments, a point the chairman accepted.
He did, though, argue that what had happened in the past was now history, that there was now a “new captain at the helm, steering Hibs forward,” insisting that the repeated changes at the top had somewhat overshadowed the club’s sporting achievements in recent years which, he claimed, stood up to comparison with virtually every other club outwith the Old Firm.
Although many names had been mentioned as potential candidates, Hibs, as always, stuck to their policy of giving away as little in public as possible, Petrie insisting that while “more than two” individuals had reached the interview stage, Fenlon was the only man to have been offered the job.
He said: “There were a lot of people who wanted to be considered for our job and we spent a long time going through the process. We spoke to some very important, influential people within football and took soundings and thoughts from them.
“There were a number of people who could have been appointed but there was only one who was offered the job and that was Pat.”
Michael O’Neill’s name was one which was often mentioned over the past three weeks, the former Hibs star having taken Shamrock Rovers to a second successive title in a League in which Fenlon had only managed fifth with cash-strapped Bohemians.
However, O’Neill repeatedly insisted he hadn’t been approached and when asked if he thought Easter Road supporters might be disappointed not to see their former player in charge today, Petrie replied: “I hope the Hibs fans will unite and support the manager who has been appointed.
“The great thing about football is that everyone has an opinion, everyone would pick their manager, their players, their formation. But it has fallen to the board of directors to make the appointment and we have gone about it in a serious and thorough fashion.
“We have spoken to a lot of people, taken soundings, not just on Pat Fenlon but on other candidates and at the end of the days we have to make our decision and we have done that.”
Petrie admitted he had hoped that previous appointments might have enjoyed more success than they did and conceded the past year in particular has been “difficult” for supporters, but insisted asking if Calderwood should have gone during the summer when he was being courted by both Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City – where he is now assistant to Chris Hughton – was an easy question to pose now.
He said: “You do not know what other consequences would have followed. We made the best call we could at the time.”
And although Fenlon will have to wait until the January transfer window to begin reshaping the squad he inherited from Calderwood, Petrie promised he’ll get the full backing of his board.
He said: “We have a budget. We operate in a fairly business-like fashion. The manager is aware of the funds at his disposal. As a football club we will be very keen to sit down with Pat in the days and weeks ahead to understand what it is he wants to change about the club.
“I am sure there will be some changes in the offing, we are very keen to understand what Pat will want to do. He has great experience, great leadership qualities and we will do everything we can to support him in the development of our football club.
Fenlon’s arrival will, naturally, put a question mark against the future of Calderwood’s assistant Billy Brown who has been acting as caretaker manager in the intervening period as it is unclear at this early stage whether the new boss wants to bring in his own team of coaches.
He said: “What we have done is appoint a manager. Pat has come on his own but he will have his own thoughts and ideas. We have not got to that point yet, it was important we got the right guy.
“Billy has been great, fantastic coming to the club, we could not have wished for any more. Pat wants to speak to Billy, that conversation will take place over the weekend.”