Paul CAIRNEY couldn’t have chosen a better time to score his first ever hat-trick. Well aware of Hibs’ interest and the fact Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon was looking on, the Partick Thistle made sure the match ball was his, a last-minute penalty against Dundee at Dens Park sealing a 3-0 win.
Whether those goals in April also clinched his move to the Capital club he doesn’t know, but today Cairney admitted it certainly hadn’t done his chances any harm.
Those strikes took the midfield star’s tally for the season to an impressive 15 but now, as Fenlon’s third summer signing, Cairney has his fingers crossed his “goalden” touch will continue as he pulls on a green-and-white jersey,
While something of a latecomer to the SPL at the age of 24, Cairney insisted he’d never given up hope of catching the eye of a top-flight club, confident that chance would come his way provided he continued to star for the Jags. He said: “I learned there was some interest from Hibs in the second half of last season, that they’d had me watched in a few games but it was just a case of me continuing to work hard and do as well as I could for Partick.
“Then before that match in Dundee, I was told Pat Fenlon was in the stand. I think he’d seen me a couple of times before that day but I didn’t let it affect me. I just went out determined to play as I had been in the previous few games for Partick.”
Cairney had no doubt already impressed by scoring twice but he underlined his credentials as a midfielder with goals when he stepped forward to slam home that late spot-kick. And, he revealed, it wasn’t an act of benevolence on behalf of his team-mates to get him his hat-trick as he’s proved to be something of an expert from the spot not only at Partick but his previous club Queen’s Park.
He said: “I’m quite confident taking penalties. It was the first hat-trick I’d ever got at any level of football and I probably couldn’t have picked a better time knowing Pat Fenlon was watching me.
“Who knows if it helped make up his mind, but it certainly couldn’t have done me anything but good.”
Given that Hibs’ midfield managed just eight goals between them last season, that’s no doubt an area Fenlon will be hoping proves much more productive in the coming months, the manager already on record as saying he believes Cairney will bring “something different” to the side.
And, although he doesn’t want to tempt fate, Cairney is anxious to maintain his strike-rate for Hibs. He said: “I’ve always played middle to front. I like to get forward although I know as a midfielder I have to do my share of tracking back but I like making late runs into the box, getting on the end of things and hopefully I can keep doing it.”
Cairney, though, insists his first hurdle will be forcing his way into Fenlon’s starting line-up, pointing out that he has the likes of Ivan Sproule, Isaiah Osbourne, Jorge Claros, David Wotherspoon and Lewis Stevenson to contend with.
He said: “I look round the dressing-room here and we do have a really good squad. I think everyone was surprised at how last season went for Hibs, saying it’s a big club and they shouldn’t be down there, but hopefully we can prove that was a one-off.”
Well aware Fenlon has embarked on an extensive rebuilding of his squad, Tim Clancy and James McPake having preceded him in agreeing similar two-year deals, Cairney also feels he’s arrived at the right time, the chance to be in at the beginning of the Irishman’s Easter Road revolution.
He said: “The manager has had a wee talk and I think it will be a lot different. I’m looking forward to it.
“I have to admit I was a bit nervous coming in at first but the boys have all welcomed me, they are a good bunch of lads.
“It’s the manager’s first full season in charge, he’s rebuilding things and, I’d imagine, there will be a few more new faces arriving to go with the players who are already here. I know it’s going to be a challenge but I’ve come here to play, not to be a bit-part player.
“I’ll be working hard in pre-season, doing my best to get a starting place. We’ve got our first friendly against Rapid Bucharest next Wednesday and then we’re away to play some tour games in Europe which will be good as it will give me the chance to get to know the boys a bit better and for them to get to know me.”
And then Hibs will kick off the new season with a trip to Tannadice to face Dundee United where Cairney will find a familiar face, former Queen’s Park team-mate Barry Douglas. Proof again, he believes, that there’s plenty of talent in the lower divisions if managers in the SPL are prepared to take the chance.
He said: “Barry actually texted me to wish me the best of luck while a couple of lads who used to be with Hibs, Sean Welsh and Kevin McCann, have been in touch and told me how good a club it is. I think there are players in the First Division who can make the step up. I always believed I’d get that chance, it was just a case of me working hard and playing well at Partick. I’ve now got that opportunity and it’s up to me to continue to work hard and show the fans here I am good enough.”
Although Cairney hasn’t played in the SPL as yet, he notched up more than 100 games for Partick having passed the same milestone with the Spiders. He said: “I’ve played under some good managers, guys like Billy Stark, Ian McCall, Jackie McNamara and Gardner Spiers.
“I’ve played against the likes of Hibs, Celtic, Dundee United and St Johnstone in cup matches so I know a bit of what to expect and what is expected.
“Hopefully, this coming season with Hibs will see us up where everyone thinks we should be and, with the squad we have, I don’t see why that can’t happen.”