Pat Fenlon can rise to Hibs challenge

By Alasdair LamontBBC Scotland
Pat Fenlon is the new manager at Hibernian
Fenlon has agreed a two-and-a-half year contract at Easter Road

No sooner had Pat Fenlon been appointed manager of Hibernian than one Scottish bookmaker was offering short odds that he would turn the club into the third force in the country.

Tony Mowbray was the last man to guide Hibs to such a lofty finish.

And few would argue that Fenlon has anything approaching the talent in his squad that Mowbray was able to call on.

Then, Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker were showing the promise that would earn them lucrative moves to the Old Firm, while Garry O'Connor and Derek Riordan formed a formidable attacking force, along with Steven Fletcher.

O'Connor - along with Ivan Sproule from the Mowbray era - are both back at Easter Road, but they are now surrounded by players of inferior quality to the class of 2004-05.

However, former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr, who signed Fenlon as a young man for St Patrick's Athletic, believes his former protege has the credentials to lift the Edinburgh side back up the Scottish Premier League table.

"Supporters' expectations in the SPL are often unrealistic in terms of competing with the top two, but I would certainly expect Pat will help Hibernian do a lot better than they've been doing the past couple of seasons," Kerr told BBC Scotland.

"He has many fine attributes. He's very determined, he's very detailed in his preparation, he's a strong character and because of his football knowledge, he gains respect from players quite quickly.

"He's a very clever football person and he knows Scottish football very well.

"I remember having to give him permission to miss a couple of training sessions because he wanted to go and see a game in Scotland.

"He has all the qualifications in terms of coaching badges, which are not always crucial to a person's ability as a manager, but he has combined practical experience as a manager with the qualifications and he's won trophies almost everywhere he's been."

Five League of Ireland titles during spells at Shelbourne and Bohemians are testament to that, but one criticism levelled at Fenlon is that he has struggled to achieve success when resources have been scarce.

"I think he's been fortunate that the clubs he's been at have been very well off when he was there," acknowledged Kerr.

"But I think you have to respect that last season (at Bohemians) he had almost no budget and he put out a team that was competitive and survived very well in the league.

"They finished fifth in the table, but considering the youth of the team and how few of them had any experience, I felt it was a very good evaluation of his ability to mould a new team without great resources."

While Kerr believes the immediate priority for Fenlon is to put a winning team on the park, he says that, in time, the Hibernian fans can expect to see an attractive brand of football, with some added steel.

"His teams have been competitive and effective and I would expect he'd be trying to impose the same type of regime," Kerr continued.

"I don't think he'd put up with fellas not giving their all in every game, and if the players there aren't achieving results for him, I'm sure he'll be wanting to change some of them and get other players in instead.

"He'll have the opportunity until January to look at what he has and then he may have the opportunity to bring in some new players.

"But he may need the rest of this season to really find out the abilities and the qualities of the players he has and whether they're going to be good enough long term."

The patience, or lack of it, of the Hibs supporters and board in the face of poor results over the past two years does not suggest a long-term strategy is at play, but all concerned will hope Fenlon can at last restore some stability, and success, at Easter Road.

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