Simon Murray’s arrival at Easter Road may have provoked a mixed reaction among Hibs fans, but Jackie McNamara insists the one thing they’ll never question is the striker’s attitude and commitment.
The 25-year-old became boss Neil Lennon’s second signing of the summer as it was announced within 24 hours of Dundee United failing to win an immediate return to the Premiership that he was heading for Edinburgh.
It would be fair to say the news didn’t meet with universal approval but McNamara, who took Murray from Arbroath to Tannadice, believes the flame-haired forward will win over those who have questioned the move.
The Capital club beat off the attentions of St Johnstone and Partick to clinch Murray’s signature but, revealed McNamara – now chief executive at York City – there was also plenty of interest south of the Border in a player who scored 25 goals in 49 starts for United.
Murray, whose father Gary played alongside McNamara’s dad Jackie in a green-and-white shirt during the early 80s, caught the then United manager’s eye – unsurprisingly – with his goals for Arbroath.
But, insisted McNamara, that wasn’t the only reason why he forked out a reputed £50,000 for a player who had started his career with Montrose only to drift back into playing Junior football around Dundee before resurrecting his senior career at Gayfield Park via a year spent in Australia.
He said: “There were a few looking at Simon at the time because of the goals he was scoring. I went to see him, he scored in the match but more than that was his work-rate and his desire. I know people say attitude and commitment should be the very minimum you should expect from a football player but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
“Perhaps he’s someone who divides opinion among fans but I’m sure the Hibs support will like his attitude and desire, his willingness to chase down lost causes and the way in which he doesn’t give the opposition defence a minute’s peace.
“I remember watching his dad Gary play for Hibs when I went to see my dad playing and there are a lot of similarities. Like him, Simons’s very direct.”
Having decided against offering veteran frontman Grant Holt a new contract, Hibs fans have been anxious to see who would be coming in to join Jason Cummings – their top scorer of the past three seasons – and Brian Graham as they prepare to return to the top flight, particularly with James Keatings having opted to join Ray McKinnon’s side in search of more regular first-team football.
And McNamara believes there is no reason why Cummings and Murray shouldn’t strike up a profitable partnership although it’s likely to differ a little in style from last season’s pairing up front.
He said: “Simon isn’t too bad at playing as a target man but he’s very effective getting in behind, operating in the channels between the centre-halves and chasing balls over the top which can leave space for other players whether it be Cummings or whoever else.”
Murray will certainly add further pace to a Hibs attack which already has the lightning Martin Boyle but, insisted McNamara, he’s a greater threat when he is played through the middle although he’s been used on either flank on occasion.
As a former team-mate of Lennon’s at Celtic, McNamara knows the demands that will be placed on Murray but is adamant he’ll thrive under a manager determined that his side isn’t stepping into the Premiership merely to make up numbers in their first season back.
Revealing he and Lennon had shared a brief chat about Murray as they met up again as former Celtic players returned to Glasgow last weekend for a money-spinning show game in aid of charity, McNamara said: “I told Neil what I thought and those were also his thoughts. Neil was used to playing in a a team that always wanted to win, even in training every day and he wants to instill that in Hibs.”
McNamara only worked with Murray for nine games, losing his job shortly after the player returned from spending the second half of that season on loan with Arbroath as they made a bid for promotion but he has no doubts there remains a gem which can continue to be polished by Lennon.
“Simon has done things the hard way,” he said, “Often when young players drift out of the senior game they are gone for good. But Simon has done very well, he’s still relatively young and I think he’ll just keep improving.”
The fact Murray will be joining a dressing-room brimming with confidence will, insisted McNamara, help the newcomer settle in.
He said: “There will be a real feelgood factor around the club, a confidence among the players, the majority of whom have been together for the past two or three years and going back into the Premiership means there are a lot of things that probably contributed to Simon going there.”