Hibs new boy Gary Deegan was a winner first time round under Pat Fenlon and firmly believes he can enjoy success again after becoming the Easter Road outfit’s sixth summer signing.
Deegan began his career as a schoolboy with Shelbourne Rovers when Fenlon was manager of the Dublin side, leaving to learn his trade with a string of other clubs before the pair were reunited at Bohemians where they won back-to-back titles and the Irish Cup.
A further parting of the ways took place when Deegan, now 24, signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Coventry City, but he and Fenlon have joined forces for a third time, the Hibs boss finally ending an eight month pursuit of the midfield powerhouse as he continues his rebuilding of the Capital club.
And in an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Deegan revealed it was the attraction of working once again with Fenlon which had helped clinch his move north, the player agreeing an initial one year deal with the option of a further 12 months,
He said: “The gaffer knows exactly what to expect of me and I know what to expect of him. He coached me as a schoolboy when he was manager of Shelbourne before I went off to lean my trade with a number of lesser clubs before he gave me a big opportunity by signing me for Bohs.
“I’d like to think I proved myself at that level, I think Pat got the best out of me back then. I enjoyed my time under him and I want him to push me on as a player again. We enjoyed success there, back-to-back titles and a cup so I know what it is to win, as does Pat. I want to be in a winning team and I am sure that’s what Pat can bring here.”
Hibs may have ended up 11th last year, freeing themselves of the threat of relegation in only the second last game of the SPL season, following a tenth place finish the previous season while the current campaign began with a highly disappointing defeat against Dundee United at Tannadice. But, Deegan insisted, Fenlon isn’t one to shirk a challenge – and nor is he.
The Dublin-born star said: “I know just how strong a character Pat is. He needs time to build his own team which he is beginning to do. He’s a determined man, feisty and he will work away and get things right. He is not one to shirk away from a challenge, throughout his own playing career he had that mentality as well and he’s trying to bring that through here, to give us the confidence and belief that we can do well.”
Although he recovered from a broken ankle which ruled him out for a season, Deegan found himself fading from the picture at the Ricoh Arena as Coventry were relegated to League One and needed little persuasion to head for Edinburgh with, in addition to Fenlon as manager, former Sky Blues team-mate James McPake singing Hibs’ praises.
He said: “James didn’t have much of a selling job to do. I spoke to him briefly a few times and he sold it to me. He came up here, the fans took to him and he took to the club and now I am hoping for the same relationship.
“I had another year on my contract at Coventry but things were starting not to work out for me so I was delighted when the two clubs were able to come to an agreement which has allowed me to join Hibs. I feel it’s a step forward, a great league to come into. It’s a great opportunity to play in the SPL with a big club.
“We’ve got a fantastic ground, a wonderful training centre. Everything is in place and now it’s just a matter of getting it right on the pitch. I am sure we will.”
Fenlon is on record as saying he believes Deegan will add a different dimension to his team and when asked what he thought his manager meant, he said: “I’d like to think I’m the sort of player the fans will like. I’m aggressive, good on the ball, a box-to-box player who can chip in with a few goals. I am looking to bring all of those things to the team.”
Deegan’s move was completed just too late to allow him to make his debut on Tayside – he instead watched the game on television at home in the Midlands – leaving him with prospect of pulling on a green and white shirt for the first time as Hearts make the short journey across the city for the first derby of the season.
The fact it will also be the first clash of the Capital’s big two since Hibs suffered that humiliating Scottish Cup final hammering at the hands of their biggest rivals, Hearts fans certain to pitch up at Easter Road for the lunchtime kick-off determined to have another party, isn’t lost on Deegan.
“What a way to start,” he said, “I couldn’t have asked for a bigger match to come into than an Edinburgh derby, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve seen plenty of them on television and the boys have been filling me in on the rivalry but I know just what it means to the city and I am up for the challenge.”
Deegan watched events unfold back in May on television and knows just how disappointed Fenlon will still feel today at having seen his side crushed 5-1 but, he claimed, he’s detected a steely determination among his new team-mates that Hearts won’t have it all their own way this time round.
He said: “James and Roy O’Donovan who was also at Coventry with me were at Hibs, and I always like to look out for people I know and want them to do well.
“It was a very disappointing result, it’s hard to take defeat in a cup final far less by such a score to your local rivals. I played in derbies down south like Coventry against Leicester but this is different, two clubs from the same city. It’s all about the bragging rights and we need to show the pride and passion to hopefully put things right on Sunday.
“Everyone seems to be upbeat in training, there’s been a good tempo to it with no-one afraid to put their boot in, that’s the type of player we need on Sunday. The boys had another disappointing result against Dundee United, but what a way it would be to bounce back with a derby win. This is a big year for the club but I am excited to be here at a time when Pat is starting his first season as manager, beginning to put his own team together and, hopefully, looking forward to some success.
“A win on Sunday would certainly kick-start our season, give us confidence and a platform upon which we can hopefully build and begin that push towards the top end of the table.”