PAT FENLON'S Hibernian might be light-years away from matching Celtic's financial muscle, but the Irishman is predicting a close encounter between the teams in the Scottish Cup final.
The Dubliner faces the ultimate test of his blossoming managerial career on May 26 at Hampden Park when his charges face the runaway SPL leaders.
Comparing their respective budgetary positions presents only one outcome from the decider, but Fenlon cites his side's record of losing just once in three meetings this term as reason for optimism of an upset.
Celtic's exploits in the Champions League, which took them to a last-16 tie against Juventus, is estimated to net them €40m from prize money and television income.
Fenlon has had to live within the means of a €1.5m kitty for players, illustrated by the decision of Irish striker Eoin Doyle to accept a better offer to join Chesterfield from League Two in the summer. Fenlon sounded upbeat, despite the financial gulf between the teams.
"We have a decent record against Celtic this year. We've played three, won one, lost one, drawn one – and two of them were in Parkhead," he said. "I think the key to it is that, over the next five league games, we have got to start picking up results and get confidence."
Missing out on the top-six split has been compensated by the Cup run, which has guaranteed European football next season. However, the option of snaffling a bargain from the League of Ireland pool of talent is off-limits for the moment.
"There will be more money in the pot, but I will have to speak to the chairman (about the budget). The League of Ireland is a difficult one, because I know the clubs need the money and, as of now, we don't have any to spend on transfer fees. To come in and ask them to sell their players to us for little or no money is unfair.
"But we've just signed a couple of players from the schoolboy leagues in Ireland, so that's a good move." l Cardiff were promoted to Premier League last night after a 0-0 draw at home to Charlton guaranteed them a top-two finish in the Championship