Roy O’DONOVAN reckons he’s ready to repay Hibs boss Pat Fenlon’s patience after grabbing his first goal for the Easter Road outfit.
Signed on loan from Coventry City just hours before the January transfer window slammed shut, the Irish striker had been used sparingly by Fenlon until handed his first start against Kilmarnock.
The 88 minutes he played in the 3-1 victory at Rugby Park amounted to more game time than he’d enjoyed in his previous four appearances for the Capital side.
Today, though, Cork-born O’Donovan insisted Fenlon’s softly, softly approach had been the right way to ease a player who had managed just 65 minutes of action since October back into the fray.
He said: “Fair play to the manager. He didn’t throw me straight in from the start because fitness-wise I was not ready. Now I am just about getting there although I did tire a bit after 70 minutes or so on Saturday because I hadn’t started a match for so long.”
O’Donovan was just one of six who featured in Ayrshire having signed on at Easter Road on a temporary basis, George Francomb, James McPake, Tom Soares and Leigh Griffiths here until the end of the season while Honduran internationalist Jorge Claros’ deal runs for a further six months.
The fact Fenlon’s squad contains so many players on loan – the Hibs manager arguing his over-riding priority is to maintain the club’s SPL status before considering the longer term – has raised questions in some quarters as to whether they can be as totally committed to the cause as those on permanent contracts.
O’Donovan, however, immediately rejected such a thought, insisting those who harboured such doubts were given their answer at Rugby Park with Stoke City midfielder Soares claiming two goals either side of his own spectacular strike.
He said: “Of course we are, it wouldn’t reflect well on the players who have come on loan if Hibs were to go down. We will be fighting tooth and nail like anyone else. We are in the same boat. I actually think it is a great challenge, this is a fantastic club which shouldn’t be in this position.”
The win over Killie also, in O’Donovan’s estimation, underlined the unity of Fenlon’s squad, insisting it had come about through an honest, professional team performance rather than a stand-out display from a few players.
The frontman said: “I thought it was a great display from the team, from Graham Stack right through. I don’t think you could single anyone out and say they had a brilliant game but overall I felt we were solid as a team.
“We played well together and the boys that came on as subs, Eoin Doyle and Ivan Sproule, played their part and at the end of the day I felt we were good value for our win.”
The triumph at Rugby Park came as a blessed relief not only for Fenlon and his players but the Hibs support who made the trip to the west despite the 5-0 hammering by Celtic six days earlier and the disappointing defeat at Fir Park in midweek, leaving O’Donovan to thank the fans for the backing they’d given him and his team-mates.
He said: “I know fans will support their team through thick and thin but it’s very hard to do that when your team has struggled for the past 18 months so fair play to them for making the effort to come along and I think they got their reward for doing so.”
O’Donovan agreed, however, that the small band of travelling fans had probably spent the half-time interval fretting over the fact Fenlon’s side were only one goal ahead, Leigh Griffiths having failed to take two great opportunities to increase their lead after Soares’ opener while George Francomb had clipped the top of goalkeeper Cammy Bell’s crossbar with a free-kick.
It was the exact same position as Hibs had found themselves in against Motherwell, ahead through Isaiah Osbourne’s strike only to concede a penalty within two minutes of the restart.
Revealing everyone in the away dressing-room was just as aware of that fact, O’Donovan said: “The manager told us we couldn’t let it happen again. I thought we’d played well at Fir Park only to let ourselves down through sloppy goals. Leigh had those couple of chances but thankfully we didn’t need them at the end of the day. Leigh’s been scoring goals so that isn’t a problem for him – hopefully he’s kept a couple in reserve for this weekend.”
Any worries Hibs may have had disappeared as O’Donovan smacked a superb shot over the head of Bell right at the start of the second half, reacting quicker than Killie defender Michael Nelson after the pair had lost sight of the ball for a split- second after an aerial challenge.
He said: “It just sat up nicely for me and although I was 25 or 30 yards out I thought ‘why not’. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they’ don’t. Thankfully this one did.”
With that swing of his right boot O’Donovan became the fourth Hibs player to claim his first goal for the club in the space of four days, joining Soares, Osbourne and Matt Doherty on the growing list of Easter Road goalscorers.
O’Donovan said: “The more players scoring the better but it is, I think, another example of how the team is beginning to blend together. We’ve scored six goals in two away matches which isn’t a bad achievement either although we thought we should have taken something from the Motherwell game.”
Even so, the win, only Fenlon’s second in the SPL, has opened up a three-point gap on relegation rivals Dunfermline, with Hibs enjoying a game in hand over the basement outfit.
But Hibs were so focused on taking care of their own business O’Donovan revealed he didn’t even know the Pars had gone down to St Johnstone until almost an hour after their match finished.
He said: “It was good new for us but it would have meant nothing had we not done our own job over the course of the next ten games.
“Despite recent results we feel we are a decent side, now consistency is the main thing for us.
“We have to keep picking up points and now St Mirren on Saturday is our biggest game of the season because it’s our next. We’ve given ourselves something to build on and we have to make sure we take it by doing the right things and being totally professional.”