The inevitable, if yet unconfirmed, departure of Neil Lennon from his job as manager of Hibernian marks the final act in what has been a glorious and historic period in the history of the club.
It’s ironic that Hibs’ longest run out of the top flight following a relegation would usher in such an important era, but it did, and both Stubbs and Lennon played huge parts.
While Stubbs was the man that built the team that Hibs fans identified with like no other since the Mowbray years, Lennon’s contribution was arguably just as important for capitalising on that most improbable of successes in May 2016.
In the emotion of the bizarre and unedifying ending of Lennon’s reign, it is easy to get caught up; either to gild the lily and make it out that Lennon worked some kind of miracles with Hibs. Or else to revise his time in charge as one long period of rancour and disharmony, and Lennon as some wild man beyond reason or control. Neither would be correct.
What Lennon did do was take over at a difficult time, the club and the support still wallowing in the warm summer afterglow of ending the Scottish cup curse, giving little thought to the business of promotion; arguably a more important, if less glamorous challenge than winning a cup, even that cup.
Lennon brought that focus, and built upon the significant legacy of Stubbs. Promotion was won in a more or less perfunctory manner. This was no glorious march to promotion, sweeping away all comers in a hail of flicks, tricks and goals. It was functional, practical and it did exactly what it needed to do, with the bonus of a Scottish cup run that saw Hearts, doing well in the league above, hammered 3-1 in another replay at Easter Road.
All of this was against a backdrop of big crowds and a feel-good factor unknown at Hibs for years, as the fans responded to both Stubbs’ triumph. That Lennon was able to build on, and add to it is to his enormous credit.
Upon promotion, Hibs had a solid if slightly inconsistent start to the season, as Lennon slowly built the team.
Perhaps mirroring his own emotional character, in the January of Hibs first season back up, his team exploded into a riot of goals and brilliant, cavalier attacking play. Hearts and Celtic were both defeated at Easter Road, Rangers again were beaten at Ibrox and Hibs were up challenging for 2nd place. They would ultimately finish 4th, a very respectable outcome to the first season back.
The 5-3 win over Kilmarnock and the 5-5 draw at home to Rangers at the end of that season were perhaps the most fitting epitaph for Lennon as Hibs manager; roller coaster matches that couldn’t help but provoke a sense of joyousness in the wonderful spectacle that football can be.
Off the park, and more importantly, Lennon took the baton that Stubbs passed him and he ran with it, allowing Hibs to build upon the success of 2016, to elongate that feel-good factor. And that is why Lennon’s reign must go together with Stubbs’; they were two halves of the same match.
With Lennon’s departure, and regardless of how it has happened, that period is finished. The feelgood factor is gone, and Dempster and whoever replaces Lennon will have to build a new era, and write their own history.
I wrote at the start of January that this transfer window would mark the toughest part of Dempster’s job as chief executive so far. I had no idea just how correct that prediction would turn out to be.
As for Lennon? The emotion and bitterness of his departure will fade quickly, and his legacy will be fondly remembered as a Hibernian manager with whom the good times far outnumbered the bad, and who kept the good times rolling for two and a half years.