Devastated Hibs striker Eoin Doyle today admitted he has his team-mates are due the Easter Road support much more than a simple apology for the abject display which saw them humiliated by Capital rivals Hearts in the Scottish Cup final.
So poor was the Hibs performance that manager Pat Fenlon claimed Doyle was his side’s best player despite the fact the Irish forward had seen only 36 minutes of action after replacing the ineffectual Garry O’Connor up-front.
But the truth of the matter was Fenlon’s team, apart from those few minutes after skipper James McPake’s goal had thrown them a lifeline, were second best to Paul Sergio’s men from first whistle to last – and by some distance.
Fenlon himself conceded Hibs could, and probably should, have been out of the match before half-time, early goals from Darren Barr and Rudi Skacel putting Hearts on the path to glory with McPake keeping them in the game by taking a Suso Santana effort off his own line before sliding home Tom Soares’ low cross.
Any hopes Hibs might have had as they sat in their dressing-room at the interval of mounting a second-half comeback evaporated within a minute, referee Craig Thomson pointing to the spot after Pa Kujabi had tugged Santana’s jersey outside the penalty area before the Spaniard threw himself into the area.
Having been booked earlier, the little Gambian defender found himself sent back up the tunnel, leaving Danny Grainger to blast home from 12 yards before Ryan McGowan nodded home a fourth and Skacel completed the rout with his second of the game.
While Hearts had gone into the match as firm favourites by dint of their three derby wins in the SPL to stretch their unbeaten run over Hibs to ten matches, even the most die-hard Jambo fan could scarcely have dreamt of such a hammering, one which many feel takes care of the 7-0 defeat with which they have been taunted since New Year’s Day 1973.
While the maroon half of the city embarked on a party to end all parties, 24-year-old Doyle and his team-mates were left to reflect on what will probably be the lowest point ever in their careers, the former Sligo Rovers man admitting it had been a “horrible, horrible” experience.
Doyle agreed there was a great deal of bridge-building to be done and, while time, as always, will prove to be a great healer, the red-haired hitman conceded saying sorry won’t be anywhere near enough.
Admitting he was struggling for words to sum up the hollow feeling he was enduring, Doyle said: “How do you recover from that? I don’t think you do.
“The dressing-room was devastated, it was a horrible, horrible feeling after such a tremendous build-up to the game. After getting it back to 2-1 having lost those two earlier goals we were looking to keep the momentum going then we had that penalty decision go against us in the first minute of the second half.
“I didn’t see it for myself but he [Santana, on replays] was clearly outside the box. Going two behind again and losing Pa Kujabi knocked the stuffing out of us. It was an anti-climax for our fans and we definitely owe them big-time. They didn’t deserve that and simply apologising to them for it isn’t nearly enough. However, it’s done now and while it was bitterly disappointing and hurts we can’t dwell on it forever. I’ll be going home to work hard over the summer and I am sure Pat Fenlon will bring in a good, strong squad for next season, one that is capable of competing higher up the league. I am confident of that.”
Doyle himself had tasted the bitter disappointment of defeat in the Irish Cup final, beaten in the final few minutes by Sporting Fingal before going on to lift the trophy twice in succession with Sligo, but, he agreed, it bore little if any comparison to the despair felt by all in green and white at Hampden.
The mauling has left Hibs and their fans with a long, miserable summer to contemplate and Fenlon with the task of virtually rebuilding an entire team with McPake, Matt Doherty, Tom Soares, Leigh Griffiths, George Francomb, Roy O’Donovan and Richie Towell all due to return to their “parent” clubs at the expiry of their loan deals.
Add to that the fact goalkeepers Mark Brown and Graham Stack are out of contract along with club captain Ian Murray and Garry O’Connor while Martin Scott appears to have no future at Easter Road despite having another year on his deal to run, and the extent of the job facing Fenlon becomes clear.
New players will, of course, arrive before the new season gets under way but the harder part of Fenlon’s job could well be convincing those thousands of disillusioned Hibs supporters to return. Crowds dwindled relentlessly during the season as Hibs, initially under Colin Calderwood and then Fenlon, spent months battling relegation, their SPL safety only secured in their second last game as they thumped basement side Dunfermline.
The Scottish Cup final, however, gave rise to the notion that, as Fenlon had claimed, the club was finally heading in the right direction after a period of going downhill, the previous season having seen Hibs finish tenth, their first fall from the top six in half-a-dozen years.
If many acknowledged Hearts had proved to be the better of the two sides 25,000 nevertheless made the journey along the M8 believing they would, at least, see a spirited and determined effort from Fenlon’s players, the hotch-potch of loan signings he’d made solely with the purpose of keeping Hibs up being handed the chance to leave as legends, the first to lift the trophy for 110 years.
However, they never rose to the challenge, those 90 cringe-worthy minutes at Hampden shooting any cautious optimism which may have arisen to pieces, the result and the meek capitulation leaving a great deal of convincing to be done if fans are to be tempted back to Easter Road for the new season in greater numbers than witnessed the miserable campaign just ended.