Pat Fenlon today explained devastated Hibs skipper James McPake knew himself he had lost his battle against injury and the chance to lead the Easter Road side out at Hampden for the second year in succession.
While the Hibs boss gave McPake every chance to prove his fitness, acknowledging just how influential a figure he is in the centre of Hibs’ defence, he was forced to make the tough decision 48 hours ahead of kick-off against Celtic that he would not make it.
Fenlon praised the 28-year-old’s honesty in putting his team before himself by agreeing the back trouble which had rule him out of Hibs last three SPL matches had wrecked his Scottish Cup dream. Now 19-year-old Jordon Forster is set to be pitched into the biggest game of his career in only his fourth first-team match, while goalkeeper Ben Williams will wear the captain’s armband in place of McPake.
Fenlon said: “It’s a blow as James has been a big player for us since I came to the club and we brought him in, but it’s more of a blow for him to be honest. When a player misses out on a cup final it’s difficult. He was optimistic and we gave him as long as we could, but we felt it was time to say it’s not going to happen.
“James was honest enough to say that himself that he was struggling. He’s obviously put the team ahead of himself. I’d have been able to judge him had he been able to train, but he has not, so it was probably a straight-forward decision.
“James was aware he had to be 100 per cent right going into the game and he doesn’t feel that. It’s not the kind of injury where he could take an injection to get him through. That’s just the way it is sometimes, it’s just unfortunate that it’s a cup final.”
While Forster has earned rave review for his performances in the victories over Hearts, Kilmarnock and Dundee, the youngster is facing a massive test in facing the likes of Gary Hooper, Anthony Stokes and Georgios Samaras rather than strikers from the SPL’s bottom six – but Fenlon has complete faith in the rookie stopper.
He said: “Jordon has been fantastic since he came in. It’s a big game for him, although his debut at Tynecastle was a massive game as well and he performed really well. Sometimes people miss out and others come to the fore, so we’re hoping Jordon enjoys the day and has a decent game for us.”
Fenlon was keen, though, that the entire focus shouldn’t move onto Forster, pointing out that Hibs other youngsters, Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell, are all in contention to be one of the 16 who will strip for action tomorrow.
He said: “The players know the team, but we’ll probably leave the subs in case somebody gets injured or falls ill over the next couple of days. The young boys have been great for us as none of that stuff [history] sits on their shoulders, they just get on with playing. It’s good to have young players in the team – they are full of enthusiasm and don’t have any fear.”