PAT FENLON today claimed keeping Hibs in the SPL was a bigger prize than ending the Easter Road outfit’s 110-year Scottish Cup hoodoo.
Fenlon is well aware of the legendary status which would be accorded to the manager who wins the Cup for the first time since 1902 when, coincidentally, Hibs were last bossed by an Irishman, Dan McMichael, revealing that barren run and derbies against Hearts are all fans want to talk to him about.
But while he’d like to enjoy the best of both worlds, Fenlon believes ensuring Hibs win their battle against relegation, in which they currently sit just four points ahead of basement outfit Dunfermline, is his over-riding priority – at least for the time being.
As he put place the final touches to his preparations for tomorrow’s quarter-final clash with First Division Ayr United, he said: “It has been a long, long time for everyone, but we’ll wait and see what happens in the first place before we comment too much.
“I think everybody I have met since I came here has brought it up. It sticks in people’s craw, they want to win it and they are desperate to win it. The two things the fans bring up are the Hearts game and the Cup and I can understand it from their point of view.
“They are the ones who are getting it in the neck in relation to not winning the Scottish Cup for so long.
“There is a big prize this year but it’s not the Scottish Cup, it’s making sure we stay in the league and it would be a huge bonus to get to the final.”
Hibs’ Cup campaign did, of course, get off to a shaky start, the Capital side falling behind after just 15 seconds to Second Division leaders Cowdenbeath before scraping through at Central Park and then beating Kilmarnock.
But since then Fenlon believes Hibs have made slow but steady progress. He said: “I think there’s a bit more confidence in the players than there was when we went to Cowdenbeath although I thought they handled that one quite well to be fair.
“It’s important we focus on the job. The prize at the end of it is fantastic for everybody and that’s the focus we have to take. We could be sitting here in three or four weeks in the semi-final and higher up the league. Or we could be out the cup and still scrapping.”
Hibs go into the match at Somerset Park as firm favourites despite being sent crashing out of the competition at the same venue last season and Fenlon knows full well Ayr’s recent record in the cups, Brian Reid’s side having knocked Inverness Caley, Hearts and St Mirren out of the League Cup earlier in the season.
Fenlon, who has watched Ayr in action three times recently, said: “They are a decent team. I think their league position is a little bit false, certainly from what I have seen of them.
“We know we are going to have to be at it attitude-wise, mentally and physically to get something out of the game. It’s a great opportunity to get to the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, these chances don’t come round too often in your career so it would be nice for everyone.”