Family at the heart of Pat’s Hibs project

Pat Fenlon: No time for sentiment as he plots cup triumph. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Pat Fenlon: No time for sentiment as he plots cup triumph. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PAT FENLON won’t have his family around him when he leads Hibs out of the tunnel at Hampden this weekend, but if the Easter Road side make it through to the final of the Scottish Cup, the Irishman reckons he might have to run a bus from Dublin straight to Mount Florida for all of his relatives and friends who’ll be desperate to come along.

Fenlon joined Hibs from Irish club Bohemians back in November on a two-and-a-half year deal, but his wife and children remained in Dublin so that they could finish their school term. The 43-year-old admits that being away from his family has made it a difficult time emotionally but he is hoping that the sacrifice will be worth it. The plan is for the rest of the Fenlon clan to move to Scotland when the summer holidays come around and the Hibs manager admitted that he can’t wait to have them all together again.

For the moment, though, he’ll have to go it alone and Fenlon revealed: “The children are still in school and it has been difficult to disrupt their terms and what have you, so they’re still living over in Dublin.

“They won’t be here at the weekend but I will try and get home after the match if I can and I am sure that they will all be glued to the television supporting us. It has been difficult because I haven’t been away from home for any period of time since I was 15 or 16 and I went to Chelsea, that is the difficult part of managing a football club.

“You have to work for a living to make sure that you can support them, it’s sometimes just the sacrifice that you have to make.”

Fenlon has had many messages of support from his home city though and he knows he may need to call in a few favours for extra tickets for the final, should they get a victory over Craig Brown’s Aberdeen on Saturday.

He added: “The problem if we do get to the final is that I probably won’t be able to get enough tickets or find enough places to put them all up!

“Everyone I speak to back in Dublin is going to be rooting for us, in fact we would probably have more than enough people to run a bus.”

But the backing hasn’t come only from Ireland and Fenlon has been pleased by the way that the Hibs fans have reacted to the work that he has done over the past few months.

Despite having a difficult start to his Easter Road career, the cup run and an upturn in their performances and results has seen a new sense of optimism among the Hibs support. Having watched from the stands as their team struggled in the league this season, Fenlon admits he would love to be able to give them something back: “The reaction from the supporters has been fantastic. I think they recognise that we have come into something that has been difficult for a season or two and it needs time to change.

“I am hoping that most of them will already be seeing some slow but sure changes.

“They have been very supportive and they seem to have bought into what we are trying to do and that is really important.

“There have been a few managers at the club in the last ten years or so and that’s not good because you need a bit of stability.

“They realise that and probably want the same thing and that is why you would like to be able to reward them because they have been very faithful and stuck with the team through thick and thin. It would be fantastic to be able to give them something back.”

If previous records in knockout competitions are anything to go by, Fenlon should know what he’s talking about having won three cups with two different teams back home and five League of Ireland championships.

Successes with both Shelbourne and Bohemians will stand him in good stead for the Hampden experience that awaits him and he added: “I’ve won the cup north and south of the border, so hopefully we can make it a treble.

“It would be nice just to get to the final first and foremost and then if we could go onto win it, it would be unbelievable.

“Our priority is the game against Aberdeen this weekend and if we can win that one it would give everyone a huge boost going into the final games of the season.

“I know that it has been difficult for all of the Hibs fans in recent months but a couple of good results in the cup would mean a massive lift looking forward to next season.

“The target always was that we stay in the league and then start planning for next season. The cup run has given everyone a good lift, it’s important for so many reasons; it’s important for merchandise, ticket sales for the rest of this campaign and season ticket sales for next season.”

Fenlon clearly knows what he’s talking about on that side of the football business and admitted that he has found the build-up to the semi-final a strange one – because he’s simply been left to focus on the football operation.

Back in Dublin the Irishman would have been charged with booking the team bus, organising the pre-match meals for the players and general administration ahead of games. And, having spent his entire career in Ireland, those are hard habits to shake off: “If I was still in Ireland I would probably be doing most of the organising myself, that’s just the way it is.

“I was always of the thinking that if you wanted something done right then you did it yourself, so one of the hardest things for me to get my head around in management here is that there are people in place to take care of these things for you.

“Back home I would have been booking the bus and making sure that everything was all right on the day.

“I did it that way for ten years so this is a learning curve for me in that sense and it makes me appreciate what all the guys and girls at Hibs do behind the scenes, because I know that there is a lot of work to do.”

Hibs have had to endure something of a negative press this year but Fenlon is hoping that the break away from the usual league routine will help take the pressure off his players on Saturday: “Most of the attention that we have had this season has been negative so maybe this is a chance for them to go out and enjoy the game because the cup is a good break from the league for them.

“It has been difficult for them at times this season, particularly at Easter Road, where there has been a fair bit of pressure on them.

“Obviously trying to get to a cup final brings its own pressure with it but they have done well in the cup games so far this season and hopefully we can get the right result again this weekend.”

Fenlon has no worries over the fitness of Ivan Sproule and striker Leigh Griffiths, who have both been playing with knocks in recent weeks, and also has Ian Murray in training again after a long lay-off following hip surgery.

With only five substitutes allowed to be named in cup games instead of the usual seven, though, the semi-final is likely to come too early for the club captain to be involved.

“They are both impact injuries,” he continued. “It’s not a strain or a pull, both of them are just sore in the general area where he took the bang so it’s nothing that would keep them out of the semi-final.”

With Lewis Stevenson suspended, Fenlon has at least one decision to make in the middle of the park.

The little midfielder has been a regular in Fenlon’s teams and the Hibs manager admitted that he will take some replacing: “We have got an idea what we are going to do in there, although we will obviously keep that to ourselves at the moment.

“We have got players who can come in and play there without us having to change the team around too much.

“Lewis gives us something different, his enthusiasm and his workrate are just fantastic so we need to bring someone in who will match that.

“The hardest part though is telling someone that they won’t be involved because everyone is desperate to play a part.

“Even last week leaving people out for the league games was difficult enough but that is what being a football manager is all about.

“Losing a couple of subs means that two more will be disappointed but we’ve just got to get on with it and it’s all about picking a team that I think can win the game on the day.”