Scottish Cup final hero Anthony Stokes has backed the Hibs team he is leaving behind to build on the feelgood factor at the club by winning the Championship next season.
The Irishman is hopeful of being given a chance by new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers after signing off from his loan stint at Easter Road with a double in last Saturday’s historic Hampden triumph over Rangers.
Stokes has loved being part of the jubilant scenes in Edinburgh over the last five days and believes the players who will remain at Easter Road possess enough quality to ensure there are more victory celebrations in a year’s time.
“I’ve always said since I went in the door and saw the boys training, you look at the Hibs team on paper and it’s not a Championship side on paper, it’s really not,” he said. “The quality is there and I don’t think anyone can doubt it. I really thought this year we’d get promotion because that was the main aim, but to finish the season with the Scottish Cup and take a bit of hurt away from the fans, I think it’s something that’ll go down in history.
“If Hibs go up next season and we’ve won the cup this year I think a lot of fans would have taken that, but it’s difficult to get out of the Championship. You can have the best team, or one of the better teams like I genuinely felt we were on paper, but it just wasn’t to be this year.”
Stokes believes Hibs answered their critics in the best fashion possible last weekend after having their bottle questioned following late heartache in the League Cup final and the play-off semi-final.
“I think we’ve been unlucky in stages but when it keeps happening you’ve got to start asking yourselves the question as well, but we answered questions on Saturday,” he said. “I don’t think the mentality was an issue. We went 2-1 down but we never sort of drifted out of the game and let them walk over us, we kept going, kept creating chances and went right to the final whistle.”
After partying in Edinburgh over the last few days, Stokes will now wait to learn if he has a future with Celtic, where he remains contracted until next summer. “It looks like I’m going back to Celtic,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to get back and prove myself.”