From sorting the kit to organising transport, Pat Fenlon far exceeded the role of a manager during his League of Ireland days. Now, he is trying to adapt to a professional environment at Hibernian, where all he has to do is manage the team.
When he was in charge of Shelbourne and then Bohemians, Fenlon went above and beyond his duties as a manager by doing anything he could help out with. But that has all changed since moving to Edinburgh.
The days of training his Bohs squad on the battered pitch at Dalymount Park because they could not afford to go elsewhere is a thing of the past, a world he has left behind.
Now, he gets to work at Hibernian’s impressive training facility where everything is modern and slick, with striker Eoin Doyle stating that ‘you can’t have any excuses in a place like this’.
Sportsmail sits down opposite Fenlon in an empty conference room – normally reserved for team video sessions – to discuss how he is adapting to a role he craved for so long.
‘The staff end of it is very, very good. It is completely different to what I had in Ireland, which was probably four good staff in Hendo [Dave Henderson], Tony McCarthy, Liam [O’Brien] and Collie [Colin O’Connor] and previously Johnny Fallon,’ he said.
‘We sort of shared all of the duties, while here you have plenty of people around who carry out the duties for you. That is good but it has taken me a little bit of time to get used to that.
‘Because I have been in control of organising kits, buses to matches and booking hotels, it is difficult not to have that hassle day in, day out. To be honest, it has been very difficult for me.
‘Sometimes I feel myself saying “I didn’t really do a lot today”. At Bohs and Shels, once my day was done on the training pitch, I was doing other stuff around the ground. So I have been trying to take a step back.’
Now that he is settled in at the club, the performances and results have improved with two clean sheets in their last two games. Yet that is only getting started on the mountain, there is still a long way to climb.
SPL leaders Celtic arrive at Easter Road tomorrow for a game that will reveal how far they still have to go. Fenlon insists ‘a point or three’ would be massive to aid their pursuit of clawing away from the drop zone.
Currently second from bottom, Hibs want to continue looking up. And that is exactly what their manager is doing with a short-term plan all about safety, while his long-term aims concern building towards next season and bumping up the gates.
Those are the types of pressures that come with managing a club like Hibs, but he feared that his chance to be in this position might never come following the collapse of a proposed move to Dundee United.
The Tangerines came calling for the Dubliner in January 2010, although Bohs refused to back down from a ludicrous compensation fee. It left Fenlon wondering if another big club would ever consider him again.
‘Yeah, I think you always have that in the back of your head. There was another job that I thought I had and it went too, so it was a little bit difficult at that time,’ he explained.
‘But what happened last year was good because it reinvigorated me working with the younger players. Myself and Hendo would go watch games on a Saturday and Sunday morning to identify younger players. So to get some of them into the first team last year was something different.
‘That was probably how we gauged success, in terms of how many lads did we get into the club. I know Bohs are not in a great financial situation, but I’d like to think we left them with a lot of very good young players.’
Leaving something behind was firmly in his thoughts back in 2007 when he walked away from a three-year deal with Derry City after just five months. It was the wrong move at the wrong time.
‘The only thing that I really learnt from Derry is always go with your gut feeling. And my gut feeling was not to take the job, having turned it down twice. But I signed when they came back a third time,’ he said.
‘It was nothing to do with the club or the players, it was totally down to me. I have to be 100 per cent behind it, I can’t give it 70 or 80 per cent – I just don’t believe in doing that.
‘People criticise me for that, but I left a three-year contract there, shook people’s hand, walked out the door and didn’t look for a penny. But I learnt from it. Maybe I tried to kid myself a little bit and said that it would be okay.’
The general perception, at the time, was that Fenlon could not settle in Derry with his wife and kids still living in Dublin. And that is something he is dealing with now, having taken a job in another country.
‘I’ve always wanted a job across the water and we’ll look at the family situation on a longer-term basis. The plan is to move them over. That was the plan in Derry too, but that didn’t happen because I wasn’t happy,’ he said.
‘The kids are in school at the moment, so they have to be looked after, but it is definitely something that will happen over a period of time. It is only a short flight across, so it’s not a million miles away to pop home.’
A lot had changed for Fenlon since taking over at Hibs and it is not just the facilities and professionalism that have made it so enjoyable. He is now seen, and treated, as a top-class manager.
The 44-year-old recalls how his list of contacts has doubled in the last month with the likes of Owen Coyle, Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis only a phone call away to ask for a favour.
‘The week that the January transfer window was closing gave me a little bit of an eye-opener because I had conversations with six different Premiership managers. You looked at your phone and thought “Jeez, I’m talking to some big names here”.’
This is the type of life Fenlon could get accustomed to. It is one that he certainly deserves following his outstanding success in the League of Ireland, but he knows that he has a lot more to offer.