Bullish Leeann Dempster claims Hibs are not contemplating the prospect of a third consecutive season in the Championship.
The Easter Road side fell out of the Premiership just as the chief executive was arriving at the club some 18 months ago, and missed out on a return to the top flight at the first time of asking when they lost in the play-offs last season.
They are now three points behind Rangers in what appears to be a straight two-way battle for the title and, speaking to around 250 shareholders at the club’s annual general meeting last night, Dempster declared that everyone at Hibs is “planning for promotion”.
She said: “I’m sure someone will ask me ‘what happens if we don’t get promoted?’. Are we going to be able to keep our players? How much money are we going to have, what’s going to happen? I’d like to pre-empt that question. This is not to say we don’t plan for every eventuality, but we are not planning not to get promoted this season. We’re planning for promotion and that is uppermost in our minds. That is the driving force behind every single thing that we do.”
Last night’s agm was one of the most harmonious at Hibs in recent memory, with a sense of togetherness and genuine ambition shining through. There was no hint of acrimony towards chairman Rod Petrie, who was the subject of fierce protests against his stewardship of the club when Dempster first arrived. Indeed, Petrie was generally well-received by those in attendance, with no need for owner Sir Tom Farmer to take the microphone and defend his chairman, as has been the case in previous years. The relative serenity prompted Dempster to declare that the unrest around the club that marred the early days of her tenure were now “a distant memory”.
The highly-regarded chief executive, who has played a big part in galvanising the club, insists she “loves” being at Hibs, and assured those in attendance she is committed for the long haul.
“I was at Motherwell for six years and it was a real labour of love for me,” she said. “It was a club I had no previous association with when I went in there. But, oh my word, I had an association with it when I left, and I feel the same way about this club now. I’ve started something and I don’t anticipate leaving. I like living in Scotland. Unless I got run over by a bus, I can assure you I have no inclination to leave this club. I’m genuinely loving every single minute of being here.”
Head coach Stubbs also spoke to the shareholders and painted a similarly rosy picture of life at the club.
Referring to next month’s transfer window, he explained that he only intends to add a defender and a striker because he doesn’t want to risk upsetting the harmony which has been fostered within his squad. He said: “We’re hoping to be very swift in January. I know what I’d like to do. We are very active and quite far down the line in terms of doing something. We’re only potentially looking at one or two more additions. There’s not going to be much more than that because I’m very conscious of disrupting the camaraderie and chemistry in the dressing-room.
“We’ve got a fantastic bunch of players and most importantly we’ve got a fantastic atmosphere at the training ground. Even including my playing days, this is one of the best dressing-rooms I’ve been involved in. They get on unbelievably well. It’s a pleasure to see them every day and how they work together. It’s actually quite easy to manage them because they’re managing themselves. You don’t want to always be on their cases – you want them to take responsibility. I’m excited watching my players – and as a manager on the touchline, that’s easier said than done.”
Stubbs explained that having such a positive working environment ensures he is confident he can retain the services of any key men whose contracts are due to expire at the end of the season. Dominique Malonga and Paul Hanlon are among this number.
“I feel as if we’ve got a great chance of keeping the players we would like to keep,” he said. “At this moment in time, we’ve got players who want to be here and be a part of something. When you’ve got that mentality in the squad, more often than not negotiations go quite smoothly. We’re in a position now where we’ve got players’ agents coming to us and asking us if we’re thinking about renewing contracts, whereas when it’s not gone so well in the past, more often than not it would be the club making the first move. We’re in a good position because we’ve got players wanting to re-sign. That tells you everything about the direction the club is heading.”
Stubbs insists that his desire to add a striker – revealed in Monday’s Evening News – does not mean that top scorer Jason Cummings will be sold or that fans’ favourite Derek Riordan, who has been training with Hibs in recent months, will be signing for a third spell with the club.
“We’ve got a good choice of strikers within the group, but if there’s one position you’d like to have more players, it would be in the forward area,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to lose any strikers. January is going to be about players coming in, not going out. There might be one or two we let go out on loan, but we are not in a position where we have to sell anyone – we are in control of that.”
When asked by a shareholder about Riordan, Stubbs replied: “I’ll be honest and say no, there won’t be anything happening with Deeks.”