PAT FENLON today hailed player-coach Alan Maybury for his impressive form at right-back, but the Hibs manager moved to reassure the out-of-favour Fraser Mullen that he remains prominent in his plans.
With first-choice Tim Clancy sidelined long term by injury and Mullen having been drained of confidence by a dispiriting start to his Hibs career, Fenlon has placed his faith in 35-year-old Maybury for the last three games, all of which have brought victories.
The manager has been absolutely thrilled with how his fellow Irishman has gone about his business both on and off the pitch and views the veteran as the ultimate role model for Mullen and the rest of the youngsters at Easter Road.
“I see every day what’s going on on the training ground and Alan has had to juggle playing with the Under-20s, coaching them, training with the first team and playing for the first team,” Fenlon said ahead of today’s visit to Scottish Premiership leaders Inverness. “One of the reasons I wanted him in that role is because I knew he could handle it. He’s a fabulous player, but more importantly, he is a top professional – he is different class.
“When we looked at the role in the summer, we wanted someone who had a good bit of experience as a player who could come in and give [Head of Academy Coaching] James McDonaugh a hand in relation to the coaching. We wanted that individual to be someone the young players could learn from, not just in how to be good footballers, but how to carry themselves on and off the park. I don’t think there’s a better role model than Alan.
“The young players are getting really good coaching but it’s vitally important they all learn what the game’s about on and off the park and Alan’s the ideal person to teach them. The big plus for us is that he’s been able to play a few games as well and has been probably one of our better players in those games.”
While Maybury is currently flavour of the month, Mullen hasn’t featured since being substituted early in back-to-back games against Hearts and Dundee United last month after being booked for rash challenges in both.
The 19-year-old featured regularly when Hibs were struggling badly in the opening few games of the season, and Fenlon admits the ex-Hearts full-back was “thrown in at the deep end”, especially as he’d only recently recovered from a lengthy injury lay-off.
The manager has been impressed with Mullen’s efforts in training of late and hopes to restore him to the match-day squad in the near future.
“In fairness to the kid, we probably threw him in at the deep end when we didn’t have many options and it probably knocked him a bit,” he admitted. “Over the past couple of weeks, his training’s really improved and his fitness levels have improved. We’ve got to remember he was out injured for a long time last season.
“He’ll come back in. He just needs a little bit of time to get himself up to the mark in terms of fitness and confidence. You can see the confidence coming back into his training and he’s not too far away from being back in the squad. We need to get him some game time so he’ll probably play for the Under-20s this weekend.
“He’s a real enthusiastic player who wants to work hard. He gives his all in training every day, so his time will come again, there’s no doubt about that.”
Hibs Under-20s, eight points clear at the top of the East of Scotland League First Division, head to Duns today, with Mullen likely to be joined in the side by Paul Cairney, who is in line to step up his fitness bid after suffering ankle ligament damage in July.