Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The O'Connor conundrum and Aberdeen's agony

A tortuous night following Hibs' league cup win against Motherwell from afar.

They got there in the end, the dramatic cruelty of the penalty shoot-out and all that.

The "real" Hibs, said a relieved Colin Calderwood. But they were minutes away from another defeat.

Cometh the approaching final whistle, cometh the man. In this case Garry O'Connor.

O'Connor. Oft maligned. Oft front page news for reasons that have very little to do with his football achievements and more to do with a talent richly rewarded and badly handled.

Back at Hibs and - recurring distractions notwithstanding - the only success of a dire start to the season.

I openly questioned quite what Calderwood's input was in signing O'Connor.

That hardly seems to matter now. The manager needs the player to spark the renaissance Leith needs. The player needs the club to reinvigorate a stalled career.

Watching Hibs this season it's clear just how much they rely on O'Connor.

His is a short term deal. That always sets alarm bells ringing.

More so when word reaches me from a former player that O'Connor's stay at Easter Road is likely to be shorter than even a one year deal would suggest.

Rumour and gossip of course. And former players can have axes to grind, fans to impress, Chinese whispers to decipher.

But the idea of O'Connor being set for a January switch (the club mentioned is Celtic - O'Connor trained there last season which could be a case of 2+2=7.5) might fit a pattern. Take a risk on a player, perhaps even relax the fabled wage structure in the short term, benefit from that player's rejuvenation on the pitch and cash in quickly.

It actually makes good business sense.

The problem arises if Hibs haven't turned a corner with last night's win, if they're still stuck in a u-bend full of crap football as the new year arrives.

That could mean a reliance on O'Connor's goals becomes the difference between a bad season and a cataclysmic season.

Could the board possibly countenance such a move in those circumstances?

Even if a deal is not set in stone (as the rumour suggests it is) will his goals interest other clubs? It's often tricky to find readily available goals in the January window.

Are Hibs prepared to stymie any such developments with a longer term deal?

Will his non-footballing travails put any such discussions on hold?

Every O'Connor goal is now contributing to finding an answer for Hibs' agonies. But every goal is also posing a question for the board.

How they solve that conundrum could give us a clear indication of where Hibs are heading this season.

> More penalties further north last night as well.

Another stinking cup shocker for Aberdeen as East Fife triumphed.

Craig Brown called it the worst defeat of his career - he's had other defeats that have hurt more people but I can see where he's coming from - and suggested his tinkering was to blame.

The result, from this distance, looks to be indicative of Aberdeen's recent travails.

These cup shocks were commonplace before Craig Brown arrived. So were the dwindling attendances. So was the disgruntlement of the faithful.

That's not to defend Brown. He may or may not be the right man for the job.

But Aberdeen's problems seem to go deeper than the technical area, this is a funk that's now outlasted a number of managers.

A strong SPL needs Aberdeen - and Hibs - to be competitive. Not challenging for the title, that's beyond them now, but for the league to be sustainable clubs that can tap into a reasonable support must be doing more than scrabbling about in the bottom six and meeting each cup fixture with fear and trepidation.

For too long something at both clubs has seemed horribly wrong. As ever answers seem hard to come by. But the need for solutions seems increasingly desperate.