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Fenlon: 'I've no issue with Neill'

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE business meant that Neil Lennon didn't get to have the customary post-match drink with Pat Fenlon following Celtic's SPL battle with Hibernian on Saturday.

But while Fenlon – a hardcore Celtic supporter in his youth – maintains that there is no acrimony between himself and Lurgan native Lennon, he makes no apologies for the way his team played in Saturday's 1-1 draw, Hibs now fifth in the SPL table after a run of just one defeat in the last nine games.

Celtic had to come from behind to earn a point at Easter Road, Wicklow lad Paul Heffernan giving Hibs the lead.

But Lennon hit out at what he called the "shocking and reckless" tackling by Hibs and suggested that their style of play was more suited to rugby.

Fenlon, however, has a different take on Saturday's events.

"I don't want to get involved in a war of words with any manager but I was very happy with our performance and our efforts on Saturday," Fenlon told the Herald last night.

"I get on very well with Neil, he has been very helpful and accommodating to me since I came to Scotland, and there's no issue between us.

"After the game Neil and his staff would usually come into my office at the club to have a beer.

"But we didn't have a beer on Saturday as Neil was going straight off to Amsterdam to watch Ajax, ahead of the Champions League game tomorrow.

"As a manager you have to do your post-match interview after the game and you can say things you later regret, I know I have done.

"Neil was obviously upset, he has lost some players for the Champions League game this week so he was annoyed with that and he was also upset that Celtic hadn't beaten us, but you can't get too hung up on what people say in interviews," added Fenlon.

 

NO PROBLEM

"Neil is a great lad and there's no problem between us.

"There wasn't a bad tackle in the game from where I was sitting. We were competitive, we wanted to get about them, too often in the past we have stood off teams and let them play, we didn't do that on Saturday, we were very good in the way we approached the game.

"I wanted our players to stand up to Celtic and they did that. Ironically, we have ended up with a centre half who has a broken cheekbone and eye socket.

"We had two players booked in the game but it wasn't a nasty game by any means," said the Hibs boss.

"We had a game plan all week, we identified some of the players in their side that we had to stifle and then we tried to hit them on the counter-attack.

"We changed our shape and it worked, we scored an early goal and played well. They had chances but our keeper played well and it was a good point for us, a pleasing performance."

The post-game row between the two managers has somewhat overshadowed the outcome of the match itself, as Hibs came close to earning a valuable win, which would have been their fifth win in six games, a big turnaround from that dismal early-season form which saw Fenlon under pressure after four straight defeats at the start of the new term.

"We have lost one in nine, so that's a good return," says Fenlon.

"We have a tough run of games now: Celtic at home last Saturday, Aberdeen at home next week and then Hearts at home in the quarter-final of the League Cup, three big games but we started well with the draw against Celtic.

"It was a tough start to the season and I don't think I ever lost four games in a row before so that wasn't nice, but I knew we had a good squad that needed time to bed in and they have done that now."

A major presence for Hibs this season has been Irish striker Paul Heffernan.

The 31-year-old from Wicklow has been plugging away in the lower leagues for over a decade, lining out for sides like Notts County, Bristol City, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham and Sheffield Wednesday and he hooked up with Hibs - on a free transfer - in the summer after a spell in the SPL with Kilmarnock.

"Paul has been brilliant for us," says Fenlon after Heffernan scored against Celtic, his third goal in five games.

"I didn't know too much about him from his time back in Ireland, we signed him just before the window closed in the summer but he has a good goalscoring record, he's a good finisher but he's clever too, we're delighted to have him."

One blow for the Irish contingent at the club this season was an injury to youngster Cody Mulhall.

Signed by Fenlon from Stella Maris last year, the Kildare lad was making good progress but his season is over after he suffered a cruciate injury in an U20s match earlier this month.

"He's a good kid and a great player, I had him with the first team squad a couple of times, I think he will be a great player for this club so hopefully he can get back to fitness."


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