Hibs youth coach James McDonaugh dedicated his young side’s championship win in their debut season in the East of Scotland league to David Paul, the midfielder who began the campaign with the club but passed away in his sleep shortly before Christmas.
The club’s teenage stars ensured their team was crowned Central Taxis First Division champions by defeating their long-time title rivals Easthouses Lily 2-0 at East Mains on Saturday thanks to goals by Max Todd and Euan Smith, but McDonaugh insisted that much-loved Paul still had a part to play on the day.
“David was shining down on us,” said McDonaugh after the match. “Having been on the inside and managed a group of players after David’s passing, I feel that today was a fitting tribute to him. He has been a massive loss to us. I saw his dad [Gordon] at the game and gave him a special hug at the final whistle.”
Hibs required only a draw to beat their opponents to the title but showed determination amid their composure to grind out victory. Both clubs were buoyed weeks ago by sealing promotion to the top flight.
McDonaugh’s young starlets rarely looked out of their comfort zone against Easthouses, the only team to have threatened to challenge Hibs in a league dominated by two teams who lost just two second-tier matches each all season. If his players generally looked in control, McDonaugh certainly did not reflect their demeanour as he cast aside his characteristic laid-back look for the occasion.
“I normally just try to sit back and watch the game,” said McDonaugh. “But, I seemed to spend the majority of the game spurring them on and encouraging them to go into the right positions.
“The first half was quite nip and tuck. We got in behind them two or three times but lacked that wee bit of clinical sharpness.
“In the second half, we played the ball from the midfield and got an end product. We had to calm down and relax and look at where we could do better. I gave them some pointers at half-time, and I think in the second half we started to settle and there was only going to be one winner.”
After the break, Easthouses were undone by Max Todd’s finish from a tight angle. Then, the destination of the championship trophy was confirmed when Euan Smith completed a sweeping Hibs move through the middle of the pitch by slotting the ball under the Lily goalkeeper at a one-on-one. Easthouses would require three goals to wrest the title from the clutches of their hosts, but, despite a late rally, the visitors did not truly threaten a comeback.
“Easthouses have been a credit to the league,” said McDonaugh. “To take the title race it to the wire is a credit to them. They were really gracious in their defeat. They’ve gone up as well, but they will perhaps feel hard done by when they have not won the league and lost just two games all season.”
McDonaugh’s opposite number Dave McQueenie admitted Hibs were simply too strong for his Easthouses side on the day. But, the Lily boss sensed that the pride generated by his Lily team over the season will stay with his men until long after their playing careers have come to a close.
“I’m very proud,” said McQueenie.
“To take it to the last game against a full-time side is tremendous and shows great character by the boys. On the day, you could tell Hibs were the fitter side.
“I spoke to the lads after the game just before Hibs got the trophy. I told them they had to be proud of their achievements and to look on it as a great achievement in years to come.
“It was a probably a game too far for us. But, I’m very pleased for the season that we’ve had.”
Hibernian EOS: Kleton Perntreou, Aaron Dunsmore, Bob Wilson, Neil Martyniuk, Callum Crane, Euan Smith, Jordan Sinclair, Taylor Hendry, Dean Horribine, Jamie Beaton, Lewis Allan. Subs: Max Todd, Andrew Black, Gareth McCaffrey, Ryan Baptie, Dougie Horne.