If the ephemeral nature of football encourages one positive outcome, it is that those within the sport learn to deal more readily than most with disappointment and change – so that they can then cope with further comings and goings of both personnel and on-field form.
Sean O’Hanlon has learned to desensitise himself to such traumas as being released earlier this year from MK Dons – where he was, right up until the expiry of his contract, firmly established as a first-team regular – and seeing the man who in summer signed him for Hibs, Colin Calderwood, dismissed little more than three months into the season.
It followed early heartbreak in his playing career when he was released from his boyhood club Everton, the team he still supports, without playing a first-team game.
The all-too-common transience of relationships within the game also elicits sympathy, so while O’Hanlon is enthusiastic about the future of Hibs under Pat Fenlon, he retains a regret about the plight of his old boss.
“I’m disappointed for him,” the 28-year-old centre back said of Calderwood, “because I think he would have turned it around eventually. But, you know what it’s like in football – managers don’t last more than a season. That’s a fact of life.”
There is no easy way to break down the guard that footballers place in front of their emotions, but there appears to exist among them a form of detachment from the game, one that helps O’Hanlon and his ilk bear their share of the responsibility for provoking a change of manager. Certainly, it seems one manager’s work is forgotten as quickly as the dressing-room instructions of his predecessor can be recited word for word.
O’Hanlon, with his imposing 6ft 1in frame and shaven head, appears exactly the type not to shirk the “hard work and honesty” preached by new Hibs manager Pat Fenlon, but he also speaks as though there is a mutual understanding about exactly what it will take to lift Hibs from the nether regions of the SPL.
“Every manager has their own philosophies and formations,” said the defender. “With Pat Fenlon, there’s not much difference – just a fresh face and new ideas. He’s said we have the players there to do it. If we can work harder than the opposition, that’s half the battle. And that’s about it. All he wants is hard work, and that’s enough for him. He wants to make us difficult to beat. If we lose the ball, to get men behind the ball. Hard work and honesty – that’s all he’s after.”
O’Hanlon has asserted himself as a first-team pick recently and, turning 29 in three weeks, is in his prime as far as the “late-twenties” football mantra goes. So, he is not expected to be one of the existing squad encouraged to leave to pave a path for incoming talent in January. Fenlon has told the players he believes in them but has also expressed his desire to plunder the transfer market in the new year for fresh faces.
“It’s not ideal, but obviously we’ve all signed contracts so if the club wants to get rid of you, there’s security there,” said O’Hanlon. “But, it’s interesting times with the window coming up. New players coming in can hopefully freshen the squad and give us a lift. Anyone who’s available who’s got ability, it doesn’t matter if they’re old or young, if the manager thinks they can do a job. With Hibs being such a big club, they should be able to attract players. Anyone who can improve the squad is a good addition.”
O’Hanlon can recount from first-hand experience the instant appeal of a move to the Capital and SPL football. After being released by English club MK Dons after five years and more than 150 appearances, it is testament to the image Hibs can boast even beyond Scotland – as a sizeable club in an attractive city – that O’Hanlon and his expectant wife uprooted their family from Milton Keynes to a place neither had ever visited. Fenlon will hope the reputations of his new club and Edinburgh can boost his chances of conducting some shrewd business when the January transfer window opens.
“I never really thought I’d play in Scotland,” admitted Liverpool-born O’Hanlon. “But, when the opportunity came round, with Hibernian being such a big club, it was a no-brainer really. I think Colin Calderwood saw me over the years in England and wanted to bring me up and it was great to get the chance.
“I’d been to Scotland a couple of times for football, but you’re on the coach, into the stadium, and straight back out again, so you don’t see much of it. Just the odd “friendly” match over the years.
“I came up the day before I signed, to see the stadium, training ground, and the city. I didn’t really need to see the city, to be honest, because everyone says how nice Edinburgh is.”
The Capital may be a hotbed of festivals, culture and entertainment – but none of those traits were on display at Easter Road on Saturday, September 11, the last time Hibs played Aberdeen, their opponents this weekend. A colourless 0-0 draw with the Dons drew criticism of the two teams from many observers.
Much as O’Hanlon would like to advertise, if only for the sake of the fans, a new, improved product this time round, on Saturday lunchtime, his frankness dictates otherwise. He does, however, see a brighter horizon for Hibs in the long-term.
“It’ll probably be the same, to be honest,” he admitted. “It’s going to be very tight, again both teams are not wanting to get beat. Even though we were beaten by Rangers, after Motherwell we have started to get a little bit into our groove now.
“Pat Fenlon has freshened it up, changed the formation slightly. It’s only a game-and-a-half, so it’s early doors, but the early signs are good.
“We’re playing Aberdeen, but we feel we can beat any team. Even when we played Rangers on Saturday, we fancied ourselves to beat them. Rangers are not as strong as they have been over the years and it was a game we felt we could win. Aberdeen will be the same – we’ll go out there to win. We want the three points. We’re not going there for a draw. With it being such a big game, it tends to be more scrappy – people are on edge.
“Obviously, I would like a few more wins. It’s always hard to be on the losing team. I think we’re just starting to turn a corner now and we have a lot of games coming up over Christmas and we’ve got some winnable games there so that should bump us up the table.”