IAN MURRAY reckons Hibs’ short summer break could help give the club he once captained the edge when they play in the Europa League qualifiers next month.
The Easter Road side finished last season with the Scottish Cup final against Celtic on May 26 and will report back for pre-season training on Friday. They had initially been told to be back at East Mains at the beginning of this week, only for manager Pat Fenlon to hand them extra days off, stretching their break to 26 days away from football.
Murray, now manager of Dumbarton – Hibs’ first pre-season opponents on Saturday week – experienced something similar back in 2008 when the Easter Road players had barely a month off – 31 days to be exact – before returning to training for a fortnight to prepare for an InterToto Cup clash with Elfsborg.
While the Swedish side progressed from that two-legged tie, Murray firmly believes that the shorter close season gave the Hibs players a real boost in their fitness levels and says that the current crop will feel the same benefits.
Hibs, who are due to play the first leg of their Europa League second qualifying round tie on July 18, will find out their opponents when the draw is made on Monday and Murray said: “I know that the players would probably have liked a bit more time off, but if you gave them the choice then obviously they would want to be involved in these big games as well.
“I think that, if anything, it could give them a little bit of an edge that they would otherwise not have had, going into the first game of the season and their European tie in particular.
“In Scotland we’re always saying that the European games come too early for us, in terms of when our league season starts, so hopefully this will improve Hibs’ chances.
“At the end of the day, it is going to be hard for Hibs in the qualifiers, no matter who they draw. There are some difficult teams in there but Hibs will be fresher going into their European game. It’s not been that long since they played a competitive game so the players will still have a certain level of fitness before they even report back for pre-season.”
Pat Fenlon’s side open their pre-season schedule against the Sons at the Bet Butler Stadium next weekend and Murray, pictured right, is hoping the Edinburgh side’s supporters will turn out in their numbers.
Last season, when Hibs weren’t in action at Easter Road, dozens of Hibs supporters chose to make the trip west to watch their former skipper’s team instead. And Murray added: “I had spoken to Pat Fenlon a while ago about the possibility of playing a friendly, but we weren’t able to get a date tied down because they were playing in the Scottish Cup final. If they had beaten Celtic they would have been back in pre-season training later because they would have gone into the Europa League qualifiers a stage further on.
“Once the final was out of the way, we were able to look at a few dates and the 29th was really the only Saturday that Hibs could fit it in. To be honest, it is not ideal for us because we’re only back in training on Saturday so we’ve got less than a week to get ourselves ready for the match.
“But it is too good an opportunity for us to turn down.
“We’ll train on Saturday and then have sessions on the Tuesday and the Thursday night and then I think we’ll do an hour or so on the day of the game, too.
“I know that all of the players will be keen to be involved. In terms of fitness, Hibs will be way ahead of us, there’s no doubt about that. They report back at the end of this work and they’ll be in five days. But it’s not about that.
“Hopefully they will bring a good crowd, especially as they have made a few signings already and this will be the fans’ first chance to see them in action.
“I think it will be a good day for everyone involved and hopefully Dumbarton can make a little bit of money out of it as well.”
Murray believes the signings of Owain Tudur Jones and Liam Craig, combined with a new permanent deal for Ryan McGivern, will be key for the Hibs in the coming campaign.
However, he knows that his old boss will be keen to add some firepower to his squad before they get the new campaign underway in the middle of next month.
Leigh Griffiths seems destined to be playing for Wolves in the 2013/14 season, while Eoin Doyle has departed Edinburgh for Chesterfield United.
Between them they bagged 39 goals across all competitions last season and Murray continued: “You would think Pat will be on the lookout for a striker or maybe two.
“Leigh Griffiths scored a lot of goals for them last season. They have got Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell and they have both done well whenever they have been involved with the first team but, no disrespect to them, I don’t think that they have done enough to merit being in there on a regular basis. I think they are both ones for the future but they would both benefit from a bit of experience in there.
“If he does manage to bring in a couple of players up front then it is up to the likes of Caldwell and Handling to show they can do the business too.”