In nine seasons as a manager in Ireland, Pat Fenlon won five league titles and three cups. His teams played in the Champions League, the UEFA Cup and it’s replacement, the Europa League.
And yet, the new Hibs boss today reckoned last season was probably the most enjoyable of the lot, even although the silverware and rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite became but a distant memory as he steered Bohemians towards a more modest fifth place finish.
However, he did so against all the odds, the Dalymount outfit’s battle against a crippling ¤4million debt having left him operating on a shoestring budget and with only three players on the books just two weeks before the campaign began.
It was a vastly different challenge to that he’d faced previously as boss of Shelbourne and the Bohs, but one which met head on and, according to Hibs chairman Rod Petrie, is arguably his greatest achievement in more than 300 games in the dug-out.
There’s little doubt Petrie and his fellow directors were just as impressed by that as they were by the triumphs Fenlon had enjoyed, the 42-year-old revealing he has a straightforward approach to management.
“I work hard and I expect other people to do the same, it’s not rocket science,” he explained when asked how he hoped to begin to turn around the fortunes of a club languishing just two points off the bottom of the SPL table.
Unsurprisingly, Fenlon immediately identified a lack of confidence as very much being a key factor in Hibs current predicament, just 12 wins in the 49 matches under his predecessor Colin Calderwood having taken its toll on the squad of players he has inherited.
But rather than eye what he’s let himself in for having signed a two-and-a-half year contract as daunting, Fenlon insisted it was a “fabulous opportunity,” pointing to the stadium outside and the club’s £5 million training centre.
Fenlon has yet to visit East Mains as Hibs boss, leaving caretaker manager Billy Brown and the players to concentrate on preparing for today’s clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, but he’s well aware of what’s on offer both there and at Easter Road following Bohemians friendly against the Capital club earlier this year.
Only half-joking he protested: “If people see the support base at this club as a problem they should perhaps go and manage in Ireland.
“It’s a great opportunity and something I am relishing.”
Fenlon is well aware, of course, that to enjoy any measure of success in Scotland a club has to overcome the stranglehold of the Old Firm, but he insisted the experiences of last season will help in that regard.
He said: “From a football perspective last season was probably the most enjoyable I have had, working with a lot of young players. At all clubs you have to manage expectancy. Big clubs want to see a winning team, not just here.
“Managing in Ireland is probably completely different, you are doing a lot of different stuff, not just managing the team, you know the ins and outs of what people are having to do each day to keep thins ticking over, that’s a big help.
“I went from having a budget of around ¤1.9 million to under ¤250,000, that’s a big difference, something you have to get used to very quickly. Two weeks before the season kicked off I had three players under contract from the previous season but hadn’t signed anyone.
“We had a Setanta Cup match against Portadown and the club tell you there is X amount to spend, go and get your team. Having been successful helps because people want to come and play for you while Bohemians is a big club.
“But it was not easy to get players and build a team but we got a good blend of youth and experience.”
The situation at Easter Road is vastly different, with Fenlon inheriting what is viewed by many as a talented squad but one, for whatever reason is vastly underachieving.
It will, as he says, be a challenge, but one which he is eager to meet head on, confident in his own ability as a manager. He said: “I firmly believe I can get them up the table.
“Hibs are not in a position where they should be but that does not matter, in football you get what your deserve. We have to work hard to get out of that situation and get ourselves up to the other end and see where it takes us.
“Obviously there’s a lack of confidence at the moment, particularly at home, and that’s something we have to rectify quickly.
“It’s about winning football matches, that’s why we are here and that’s what you will be judged on.”
Fenlon is well aware he’s Hibs ninth boss in ten years – or fifth in four, whichever way you want to view the managerial merry-go-round at Easter Road – and he accepts it has had something to do with the apparent malaise which has set in among a section of the club’s support, particularly over the past few months.
But again, Fenlon was totally upbeat, insisting that the fans will soon return whenever the future begins to look a little brighter.
He said: “We need the supporters feeling good as well. It’s important the players come here and play and feel they want to enjoy their football. Sometimes it takes someone coming into let them know what they have and what it is about.
“They have a fabulous environment to be playing in and they should be embracing that.”
Fenlon, of course, will have to work with the players Calderwood left behind, at least until the January transfer window, but he intends to use the intervening period to assess what he has at his disposal, insisting he has no fixed ideas of what he might do when the time comes.
He said: “I want to see what we have. Sometimes there’s something there that has been missed. It’s important to try to get the best out of the players that are here and that’s what I will try to do over a period of time.
“I have played different systems throughout my career and I’ll probably keep doing that, looking at what type of player I have and how they fit in to it.
“If come January there are areas we need to change then we will sit down and talk about what we can do.”