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Fenlon: I can feel fan pain

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Leigh Griffiths Photo: Chris Clark/PA Wire

Leigh Griffiths Photo: Chris Clark/PA Wire

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Leigh Griffiths Photo: Chris Clark/PA Wire

IN THE build-up to any cup final, it's a standard for the local media of any club to ferret out someone who has fond memories of the club's last time to win the trophy.

That's a bit of a problem for those covering Hibernian ahead of Sunday's Scottish Cup final against Celtic at Hampden Park. The club hasn't won it for 111 years.

"They keep telling me at the club that there's no one alive who has witnessed Hibs winning the Scottish Cup," says Hibs boss Pat Fenlon, speaking to the Herald this week in the build-up to his second Cup final as manager of the Edinburgh side.

"So this game on Sunday is a great chance for us to do that. Whatever about the players winning medals and me winning it as a manager, for the Hibs supporters to finally win the Scottish Cup would be something they have waited for for generations, it would be priceless."

As he looked back this week on his career, trying not to think too much about last season's Cup final when Hibs were humiliated 5-1 by their close rivals Hearts, Fenlon – when not trying to second-guess Neil Lennon and the team he will field on Sunday – has been in reflective mood, thinking more about what a Cup final means to those beyond the dugout and the playing field.

 

INVIGORATED

He recalled his first-ever Cup medal, won with Bohemians in 1992, when he realised that it wasn't just a case of 11 players winning a medal but an entire community being invigorated.

"Bohs in '92 was my first Cup final win. I had lost a couple of semi-finals as a player with Pats so that win in '92 was a big deal for me as a player. But it was a big deal to a lot more people outside of the team and it took a while to realise that, Bohs hadn't won anything for a long time so it was a nice feeling to do it that year," Fenlon says.

"I have been here a bit longer now, maybe around the time of the final last season I wasn't here long enough to really understand and realise what it would mean for the Hibs people to win it."

One lesson has been learned from the Hampden debacle of 12 months ago – last year Fenlon took his squad to Dublin for a few days before the final to train and prepare in a relaxed environment, but the outcome was that 5-1 disaster, so this year Fenlon and Hibs stayed close to their Leith home.

"You always look at things you can change. I looked back on what we did last year and we have changed the preparation and the approach a bit. We have to be positive and upbeat, look forward to the final and not worry about it," says the 44-year-old.

"Last year I felt that taking the team away from Edinburgh to Dublin would help, it would ease the pressure taking them away from it all, but maybe I should have left them in Scotland, so they could realise what it all meant to people at the club and in the city.

 

DEADLY

"So I have learned from that and this week was a normal week. We trained as usual, I gave the players a day off yesterday, we'll train today and tomorrow as normal, head to Glasgow tomorrow afternoon, watch the Champions League final and try to relax."

Hopefully, with a better outcome than last season. How did Fenlon cope in the aftermath of such a heavy defeat to their deadly rivals?

"After the game we just went back to the club, it was all doom and gloom and that's not a feeling I want again. I just wanted to close the door and not open it again for a while, but you have to face up to life again, take it on the chin and move on. The players who are still at the club from last season deserve great credit for getting us back to the final again," he says.

Despite some very tough times and barren spells, Fenlon believes that this season has already been a good one for Hibs, who were in danger of relegation when he took over but are now already guaranteed European football for next season, no matter what happens on Sunday, and an added bonus that they have done better than Hearts.

"Yeah, we finished ahead of them in the league, beat them to get to the Cup final and this was the first time in 12 years we didn't lose a derby game to Hearts so that's been good," says the man from Finglas.

"We have had positives in the season but we also had that spell in the middle of the season when we struggled and that's something we need to look at for next season. I am planning ahead for next season as I know we need to make changes.

"But the players have all played their part. Look at Gary Deegan, he hasn't really featured in the last few games but he scored the goal that helped us beat Aberdeen on the way to the final, all those things contribute.

 

PRESSURE

"You always put pressure on yourself, and we have dealt with pressure to get here. We have beaten Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock to get here, we had a hard game against Falkirk in the semi-final, so I don't want us to think that it was enough just to get to a final."

Europe is on his mind, as Fenlon is aware of the implications of Sunday: if Celtic win the double, Hibs will enter the Europa League as beaten Cup finalists but a Hibs win will mean entry into a later round.

"If we win the Cup, it will give us an extra two weeks before the start of next season, if we lose the final our first game next season will be July 18th so that will change our plans," he says.

"We can also win a trophy and it would be a big deal to finish off the season. It has been an okay season so far, we have 18 more points than we did last season but to end up with a trophy would make it a fantastic season."


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