Former Hibs star Mike Conroy today insisted Pat Fenlon has what it takes to bring success to Easter Road.
Irish club Bohemians cleared the way for Fenlon to succeed Colin Calderwood as boss of the Capital outfit when they gave Hibs permission to speak to their manager.
The move has paved the way for him to be in the dugout for Saturday’s SPL clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park provided personal details can be thrashed out over the next 48 hours.
But while few Hibs fans will know much about Fenlon, Conroy believes the 42-year-old has all the credentials to make the switch across the Irish Sea.
Conroy, who now lives in the south of Ireland having finished his playing days with Cork City, knows Fenlon well having played against him, while he’s also been a staff coach with the Irish Football Association for many years.
And he has nothing but admiration for the man who saw his first chance of moving to Scotland dashed last year when Dundee United couldn’t agree a compensation package with Bohemians.
However, no such obstacle will stand in the way of Hibs, with cash-strapped Bohemians – who are considering selling their Dalymount ground to eliminate a ¤4 million debt – prepared to allow Fenlon to move on without recompense.
Fenlon is seen as a strong-willed character and, declared Conroy, there’s plenty of evidence of that. He said: “Pat went to play for Linfield for a few years and for someone in this country to go from the South to the North says something about his character. He’s well respected right through the country.”
As a player Fenlon became the first to turn out for Dublin’s “Big Four,” St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne where he first turned to management in 2002.
He won three titles in five seasons there and then led Bohemians to the League of Ireland and FAI Cup double in his first full campaign, and retained the title the following year.
Although “Bohs” finished the latest campaign in fifth place as Michael O’Neill’s Shamrock Rovers took the title for the second year in succession, Conroy reckons that was a feat still worthy of mention given the club’s precarious financial plight.
He said: “Pat has done well in his managerial career. He’s handled the expectation when he had a few quid to spend at Shelbourne and he’s rebuilt a club which is on it’s knees at Bohemians.
“Despite their troubles he’s managed to get a team on the pitch and to win a mid-table finish. He’s gone about it all in a very professional manner and done fantastically well. As he showed in going up to play with Linfield, he has a deep strength of character. He’s a feisty guy, as a player he was a wee skelf but he could leave the foot in. No-one could walk all over him.”
Conroy also believes the way Fenlon handled the disappointment of seeing his move to Tannadice fall through is another indication of his mental strength. He said: “He showed great self esteem and integrity.
“There was no throwing the toys out of the pram. He got on with his job and never made a great issue about it, he just went back to Bohs where he has done a great job over the past 18 months in the face of adversity.”
Having spent two years at Easter Road in the early 1980s – a spell the former Celtic players admits wasn’t the greatest in his career – Conroy is well aware of the opportunity becoming manager of Hibs offers despite his old club’s current problems.
He said: “It’s a big club which deserves a little better than they’ve had of late. Everything is in place at Hibs – a terrific training centre, a fantastic looking stadium and a big support desperate for some success – for someone to go in there and lift the place. The fact there were, apparently, nearly 100 applicants for the job tells its own story.
“Pat has done well in Ireland, he’s definitely worth the opportunity and is probably due the chance across the water.”
Meanwhile, Birmingham City have opened talks with Calderwood over becoming assistant manager to Chris Hughton.