There will be those who question Tim Clancy’s sanity in swapping a tilt at Champions League football with Motherwell for a side which just managed to scrape clear of the threat of relegation on the second last day of the season. However, Hibs boss Pat Fenlon’s first signing of the summer has no doubts he has made the right move, adamant that he and his new team-mates will soon have the Easter Road fans smiling again.
Easier said than done, he readily admits, but Clancy is adamant he wasn’t alone in being shocked at the plight the Edinburgh club found themselves in, finally finishing the season in 11th place before suffering a hammering at the hands of arch-rivals Hearts in the final of the Scottish Cup.
The 28-year-old said: “I think everyone was surprised to see Hibs struggle. Every player I spoke to expected them to go on a run which never came. Everyone expected them to string four or five wins together and climb up the table.”
Ultimately, though, eight places separated the side Clancy has turned his back on from the one he has just joined but, again, he argued the margin between winning and losing in the SPL is much tighter than that bald statistic might suggest.
Pointing out that only one goal had separated Hibs and Motherwell on two occasions while a third league match was drawn and the League Cup clash between the sides won by the Capital outfit thanks to a penalty shoot-out, he insisted: “Motherwell finishing third was a huge achievement but I don’t think there were too many games we felt comfortable in.
“Every game was hard, every match was quite tight. I don’t think we won too many by more than two goals, a lot of the wins we did get were by one goal. I think the SPL has become harder, just look at Aberdeen, a club of their size and they haven’t finished in the top six for the last three or four years.
“The likes of St Johnstone have come up and done brilliantly, Motherwell have been quite strong and Kilmarnock had a very good season a couple of years ago before slipping out of the top six.
“It’s all about getting that winning mentality and grinding out a few results which can send you flying up the League – but that’s a lot easier said than done.”
Fenlon has made no secret of the fact he wants to ensure Hibs are no longer regarded as a “soft touch”, demanding a transformation which will again see Easter Road – where those in green and white won just two SPL games last season – as a venue to be viewed with trepidation by visiting teams.
And Clancy believes that under Fenlon Hibs can enjoy a “fresh start” as his fellow Irishman embarks on the mammoth task of rebuilding a side capable of challenging at the right end of the table rather than battling away at the bottom.
The departure of the host of loan signings brought in to ensure top flight survival along with others such as Garry O’Connor, Ian Murray and Graham Stack has given Fenlon the opportunity to set about pulling together his own squad with Clancy convinced there will be further new signings to follow him in the coming days and weeks.
He said: “Hopefully we can do a lot better than winning just twice at home. Winning at home gives you a massive advantage, the better the team is doing the better the support will be so it is important to get our home form going.
“I think the club is in a transitional period, a lot of players have left, the ones who were here on loan and those out-of-contract so I’d imagine there will be other new faces coming in which gives us a fresh start if you want to put it that way,
“It’s an opportunity to start again and hopefully we’ll have a better season and the club will be in the top six where it should be.
“The advantage of the SPL being quite small is that you play against each other quite regularly and you get to know how good the opposition players are so I know there are a lot of good players at this club so I’m looking to getting into pre-season training and getting to know them better.”
Although he’s about to begin his fifth season in Scotland Clancy admits he’s probably still something of a mystery figure to many Hibs supporters having begun his professional career with Millwall before drifting into non-league football.
He said: “I was a kid at Millwall when they had one of their best teams in years, a side which got to the FA Cup final and contained guys like Tim Cahill, Steve Claridge, Denis Wise and Kevin Muscat so I never got an opportunity there.
“I went non-league for a couple of years which gave me the chance to play and develop and it was an old coach at Millwall who knew Jim Jefferies and put my name forward when he was manager of Kilmarnock. I came up, played a couple of bounce games and signed on.” Clancy revealed that Jefferies’ right-hand man Billy Brown, as Fenlon’s assistant, had played a part in his move from Fir Park. He said: “Billy spoke to me and told me what is going to happen. I’ve always liked playing at Easter Road and the size of the club, the training centre, the stadium and the opportunity to play in front of decent crowds made it the right decision for me and my family.”
Although he doesn’t know his new boss personally as yet, Clancy revealed he once went to watch Fenlon play. He said: “I’d have been about 14 when my Dad would take me to see Shelbourne Rovers when Pat Fenlon was playing for them. We weren’t fans as such, they were the nearest club to where we lived so he’d take me along on a Friday night.”
So what did he make of Pat Fenlon the player? Without a moment’s hesitation, Clancy replied: “He was brilliant.”