Former Hibs star Michael O’Neill has revealed how he feared a whispering campaign accusing him of having a drink problem may have cost him the chance to become manager at Easter Road.
Now having guided Northern Ireland to the finals of next summer’s European Championships, O’Neill was a strong contender for a return to Edinburgh following the sacking of Colin Calderwood four years ago.
But despite having a five-hour meeting with officials of the Capital club, O’Neill, then manager of Shamrock Rovers, said he heard nothing more about the vacancy which was filled by Dubliner Pat Fenlon.
The 46-year-old, who played 100 games for Hibs between 1993 and 1996, told BBC Sportsound: “I never really got to the bottom of it. The meeting lasted five hours and I think if they had not fancied me they would have tried to get me out of the room prior to that.
“It was the perfect opportunity for me. They had outlined what they wanted, someone who would live in Edinburgh with their family in Edinburgh and I had my house in Edinburgh and someone who knew Scottish football, which I did. But ultimately I had no contact after that.”
O’Neill admitted he was “appalled” to hear rumours he suffered from a drink problem. He said: “I was commuting from Belfast to Dublin, it was virtually impossible for me to have a drink problem.
“I was really disappointed and it was people in the media that alerted me to it. I was not aware of it if I am honest.
“Geoff Brown had phoned me up at the time, the St Johnstone job was available and he said to me there’s people saying things about you that, first of all, I do not believe are true but I think it’s only fair that you know that people are saying that type of thing.
“If it was something of that nature that stopped me getting a job then it’s poor as chairmen have an obligation to do due diligence and if it was done properly they would have found out quite clearly that was not true.”
However, the Evening News understands O’Neill was a strong candidate at the time and made it well down the line in Hibs’ search for a new manager, something he wouldn’t have done had the club believed those rumours to be true.