Neil Lennon calls on Hibs to repeat last year's Scottish Cup glory
As a player and manager at Celtic, Neil Lennon won no less than six Scottish Cup finals but, nevertheless, he fully appreciates the euphoria created by Hibs winning their first in 114 years.
Eight months on and on the eve of the Easter Road side kicking off in this season’s campaign, the memories of last May 21 still live large in the memories – defender Liam Fontaine revealing that he still has fans coming up to him in the street to thank him for “one of the best days of my life”.
Lennon, of course, wasn’t part of it, replacing then boss Alan Stubbs who quit for an ill-fated spell with English Championship outfit Rotherham United, but, he admitted, he’d love to see his players bask in that sort of glory again.
The fact five different clubs have lifted the cup in the past five years points to the enormity of the challenge in trying to keep those green-and-white ribbons on the cup come May and having finally smashed the hoodoo, has, Lennon believes, lifted the pressure.
He said: “There was a psychological barrier we have got through and it just meant so much to everyone involved. Once you have had that taste of success then you want more.
“Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen might have a say in that, or any other club, but why not?
“It’s not our priority obviously, but it is well up there. The players had one of the best days of their lives last year so why not aim for that again. Once you have a hold on something you don’t want to let it go. You don’t realise what you will miss until it’s gone.”
Lennon has, at least, been spared the annual question posed to every Hibs manager since 1902, namely “could this be your year”, but he has sensed the tangible relief that Hampden victory over Rangers brought.
“Certainly among the support and what it meant to them,” he agreed, “They had broken that taboo and 114 years without a win, so people were always going to talk about it. The Hibs fans can bask in the glory of that day and I would like to do it again.
“It is a tall order, obviously, but in cup football anything can happen.
“I’d imagine there is less pressure now although as the cup holders everyone is going to be looking for your result so there is a bit of pressure in the competition.”
Hibs obviously go into tomorrow’s clash with East Super League champions Bonnyrigg Rose as overwhelming favourites to be in Sunday’s draw, Lennon well aware of the danger such a tie poses, saying: “We’ve nothing to win but the tie.
“If we win then we are expected to win and if we don’t then we are looking at a giant-killing, so we are treating it very seriously. We are the cup holders and obviously we want to defend it as strongly as we can.
“There will be no stone left unturned from our side of the fence. We have had them watched and we have footage of them. We know they are a good team and probably could play in the league at some level.
“They have a good record in junior football. It’s a local game, there’s going to be a big crowd and that might inspire their players so we have to be very, very wary of that.”
To that end, while accepting those players who enjoyed the remarkable finale to last season will never be able to totally forget both skipper David Gray’s stunning last-gasp winner or the 150,000 fans who packed the streets of Edinburgh the following day to watch the cup being paraded, Lennon will be imploring them to look forward, no back.
He said: “We are in the competition and we are going to try to progress as far as we can and to do that we have to overcome Bonnyrigg first.
“The players have to try to forget about last year for the time being. You will never completely forget that day. No-one who is associated with the club or even for that matter, a lot of people in Scottish football, but for the coming months we have to look ahead.”
The fact Robbie Horn’s side knocked out Dumbarton – who gave Hibs a tough match last weekend – has, insisted both Lennon and Fontaine, flagged up the danger they pose.
“I think it will be a good cup tie,” insisted Lennon. “There’s a lot at stake for us and for Bonnyrigg it is a big tie as well.”
The fact the match has been switched to Tynecastle, a stadium familiar to Hibs and one in which they came back from two goals down with only ten minutes to play before knocking arch-rivals Hearts out en-route to glory, will, Lennon believes, suit the Championship side.
He said: “I know where Bonnyrigg is, but I don’t know what their stadium is like in terms of facilities. I think the switch is beneficial for both sides.
“We will field a strong team as we want to win the tie and we want to keep the momentum going that we have built up over the last few weeks, but it is no foregone conclusion.”
Lennon well remembers the day when Celtic, with Roy Keane making his debut, were humbled by Clyde, while watching Ipswich lose to Lincoln in the FA Cup only this week again underlined the potential for a shock result.
He said: “I have had a few as a player and as a manager and it’s not nice. If you are not right, you don’t apply yourself, you don’t play well and believe you can just turn up and think everything will be alright them you are in for a rude awakening.
“We want to make that pretty clear to the players. It is their cup, they have got to want it and I’m pretty sure that they do.”
And Fontaine believes the experiences of winning the cup will stand Hibs in good stead this time round, saying: “We took every round as it came. We couldn’t say we were going to win it.
“Until one of the very last moments in the final it was never a given but we were fortunate to write the history we did.
“Now it’s a new competition, different opposition and while we hold that moment in our hears, we are out to prove we are what we are because of our ability. We don’t under-estimate any side, we can’t take anything for granted and we’ll go out their with our professional heads on and hopefully do a professional job.
“This is a tie which captures the whole romance of cup football. We’ve watched big teams fall this week elsewhere so anything can happen, but we have the cup to defend and we’ll defend it well.”