Hibs kid Danny Handling admits he’s been as curious as any fan to discover just who boss Pat Fenlon intends to bring to Easter Road as he rebuilds his squad.
Goalkeeper Ben Williams became the latest arrival, Fenlon’s fourth signing of the summer as he followed in the footsteps of Tim Clancy, James McPake and Paul Cairney with the prospect of further new faces to come.
All will be out to impress Fenlon and the Easter Road support but, Handling today insisted, they’ll be met by a bunch of youngsters straining at the leash to force their way into the manager’s plans.
Some, including Handling, have already had a taste of top flight action. His own admittedly amounts to only a couple of minutes in the final game of the season before last but for the teenage striker it has, along with the likes of Sam Stanton, Ross Caldwell and Scott Smith, whet his appetite.
Others such as Harry Monaghan, Jordon Forster, Dean Horribine and David Gold are equally anxious to catch Fenlon’s eye, well aware, claimed Handling, that with a tighter squad for the coming campaign, opportunities to do so could well arise.
He said: “It’s always great to see new signings coming in, it’s an exciting time for fans who want to see just who the manager has signed.
“It’s good for the club and hopefully the new guys can help take us forward but there’s a lot of us younger boys already here who want to be part of it. That’s the main aim for all of us so we have to keep plugging away, being ready to take that opportunity should it arise.”
Fenlon has been patient in his rebuilding, having identified key areas he needs to strengthen. He is determined not only to get players of the right quality but those that bear what he believes are the necessary characteristics rather than adopt a scatter-gun approach. A new striker is now his priority. Eoin Doyle is the only experienced one currently on the books, with the Irish 24-year-old having barely five months of SPL action under his belt.
As things stand, Handling and Caldwell, both just 18 years of age, are next in line.
With the threat of relegation hanging over Hibs for much of last season, Handling accepts that it was no time for giving youth a fling, but having ended last season on loan with Third Division Berwick Rangers where he scored seven goals in as many games, he insists both he and Caldwell wouldn’t be fazed if given the chance.
Laughing, he said: “So far so good for Ross and me, there’s no new striker arrived yet. Yes, we’ve spoken about there maybe being a chance for us and perhaps even young Jay Doyle (no relation to Eoin) to make an impression. Of course we don’t have a great deal of experience but Ross is a big physical guy who will take anything that comes at him while being at Berwick was a great experience for me.”
Handling’s short spell at Shielfield Park brought comparisons with the beginning of Kenny Miller’s career, the Scotland striker claiming ten goals in 13 matches – all braces – while on loan with Stenhousemuir some 13 years ago. He said: “I’m told there’s similarities with Kenny and Garry O’Connor, who also went out on loan to Peterhead. I don’t know about that, but it didn’t seem to do either of them any harm and hopefully it will work the same way for me.”
Although the odds are that Handling and Caldwell will find further competition for a place up front arriving sooner rather than later, the youngster argued there could well be a silver lining to the financial dark cloud which currently hangs over every club in the country.
He said: “Scottish football is having a bad time right now and although Hibs are bringing in good players to try to develop the club I think everyone recognises that budgets everywhere are tighter and clubs will probably be running with smaller squads.
“So that could well create chances for youngsters.”
Handling admitted he and his young team-mates have taken note of Fenlon’s assertion that home-grown talent won’t be forgotten as he brings more experienced players in, the manager having already told the kids exactly what he expects of them.
He said: “It’s good for myself and the other boys to hear the manager saying such things. He’s had meetings with us individually and the group to let us know what he wants from the youths and what is changing. He wants to try to put openings for us but he’s also told us it’s not all about football, it’s about professionalism and showing the right character on and off the pitch.
“We definitely feel that in the year coming there will be opportunities. The new Under-20 League will help.”