Leeann Dempster is excited by the prospect of striking up a strong rapport with new Hibs head coach Neil Lennon after swiftly sensing that they were “on the same page” with regard to their thoughts for progressing the club.
The chief executive had a productive working relationship with Alan Stubbs over the last two years, and expects to enjoy a similar sense of harmony with his successor. Early signs are positive, with Lennon and his advisor having been bowled over by the manner in which Dempster went about her business from the moment they first entered discussions about the Easter Road vacancy.
“We had a good first meeting – we had a great first meeting actually,” said the chief executive. “I think it’s really important when you’re getting to work with people that you’re on the same page, and we were. We were on the same page about a number of things.
“We’re going to work really closely together, that’s the way we’re going to operate. That’s the way I worked at Motherwell with Stuart [McCall] and here with Alan, that’s the way we worked. I think you need to be sure you can work together and I was certain when I met him that we could.”
From the moment Lennon made contact with Hibs to intimate an interest in replacing Stubbs, there was no doubt in Dempster’s mind that he was the primary candidate.
“Football is always fast, it’s always unexpected,” she said. “And when events happen you have to be ready and prepared and deal with them as professionally as you can.
“So when it became obvious that Alan was going to leave us and go to Rotherham – I guess we knew it was going to happen some time – we moved as quickly as we could to get someone else in place.
“When it became obvious it was possible for me to get Neil, he became the outstanding candidate. If you look at someone who has managed at the level he has and achieved what he has, particularly in Scotland, and have the chance to work with him and bring him here, let’s be honest, in what is going to be a really pivotal year for us, we wanted to make that happen. When it became clear it was possible we moved as quickly as we could to get it done.”
Dempster dismissed the suggestion that the club had to push the boat out financially in order to lure Lennon. “I think it’s more important that both of us wanted to make it happen,” she said. “I think it shows ambition on behalf of the club and, from Neil’s perspective, he absolutely felt it was a good fit for him at the moment. When two parties want something to happen, you can make it work. I think we were on the same page in terms of desire and where we want to be, and the opportunity here, and he saw that.”
Dempster explained that Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker will have scope to bring in new players but insists there is no need for major changes at the club. “Neil is bringing a number two who has worked well with him in the past and he is coming into a good, strong backroom team as well. It’s a pretty settled football staff overall. There will be some changes but not a massive switch around this year. I don’t think there are going to be wholesale changes with players. Like every other season, you want to be stronger than you ended the previous season.
“Neil will have a strong budget in the Championship. He will have a budget that we feel will be competitive. The vast amount of players that we had are still under contract at the moment and we want to add to that. We want to support him to go forward.
“Neil now needs to assess the players that he has got. It is a pretty strong squad at the moment. I am sure there will be one or two who may not feature as much as they would like but that will be his decision. We only went over the players in any detail in the last 48 hours so he has a bit to think about. We have identified the areas of the team we want to strengthen. We have talked about that already, so the priority now is to try and bring in the couple we have identified, positions anyway, before we come back on June 23, ideally. If not shortly afterwards because we’re in real time after that.”
Dempster is adamant there is no pressure to cash in on Jason Cummings and John McGinn, two players Lennon is desperate to hold on to. “At the moment, the club is in a strong position and has a strong player pool,” she said. “We don’t have a need to do anything. Anything we do, we will do electively – whether that is players going out or coming in.”
Dempster believes the appointment of Lennon has provided a further injection of enthusiasm for a Hibs support still basking in the Scottish Cup final triumph three weeks today. She hopes the feelgood factor around the club is generated by a surge in season-ticket sales.
“He is obviously a manager who is known UK-wide and worldwide,” said Dempster. “You only have to look at the excitement among the supporter base about his appointment. As soon as it was talked about, it was something they were getting very, very excited about. So it can only be a good thing for us.
“It shows the club is doing everything it can to progress and to be as strong as we can be. That’s always been our aim from day one. Having Neil and Garry here will help us do that.
“We sold 8000 season tickets before this appointment. We had a strong finish to the season with the Scottish Cup win which will undoubtedly help too. There is a feelgood factor around it. Supporters have been fantastic over the last two years and I genuinely expect them to do it again.
“We have set a target of 10,000 for the start of the season and I’m absolutely certain that if the supporters are as delighted about this appointment as they appear to be, they will come out in big numbers.”
Ultimately, Lennon will be judged on whether or not he can lead Hibs to promotion this season. When asked whether a return to the Premiership is imperative, Dempster said: “Need, desperate, urgent – whatever you want to call it, I genuinely believe we are a club who should be in the Premiership. You could argue it is needed for finances, but it is a need for this club to be in the Premiership. It is also a wish and a want.”