THE playing careers of the Hibernian Brat Pack that broke through en masse at the start of the millennium are gradually winding to a close. Tam McManus, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, and Kevin Thomson have all called it a day, while Steven Whittaker admitted last week that he is now considering his post-playing options. Only Scott Brown endures.
That does not come as a surprise to Ian Murray. The Airdrie manager was one of the first of that group to make the breakthrough at Easter Road and was already captain when Brown made his debut as a 17-year-old in May 2003 in a side that also featured McManus, Riordan and O’Connor.
Murray and Brown will be re-united at Celtic Park on Saturday. The former will be in the visiting dug-out, desperate to end Celtic’s chances of completing a treble-treble by knocking them out of the Scottish Cup. The latter could be in the Celtic starting line-up or at the very least on the bench, and Murray looks forward to catching up with his old friend.
“Hopefully when I see him I’ll be celebrating a famous result or at least a decent performance,” said the former Dumbarton and St Mirren manager, recently returned from a two-year stint in Norwegian football. “Actually, I might need to be in touch with him before the game to try to sort out a few tickets!”
Brown is still weighing up whether to leave Celtic in the summer for a new life in Australia. Murray, though, just can’t envisage it. Brown may be turning 34 this summer but his former team-mate reckons there is plenty of mileage in his legs yet.
“I just can’t see him going to Australia,” Murray said. “Obviously I don’t know what he’s thinking in terms of his future and his family, but I can’t imagine him playing in Australia rather than for Celtic. He’ll have a fantastic opportunity to join their backroom staff I would have thought if he wanted that, he’s just had his testimonial year, and he’s going for the treble treble.
“Some people might think that would be the perfect way to bow out but I just can’t see it. Scott’s not stupid. He knows the magnitude of Celtic and how big a club it is. I’d be surprised if he wants to take himself away from that and the chance of coaching there. It would be a very brave move if he does that.
“I think he could play at Premiership level for a few more years yet. The European games might become harder for him as they’re played at a higher tempo but beyond that he can still make a big impact domestically. People take themselves away from international football for a reason and it’s to allow them to play longer at club level so I can see Scott going for a few years yet.”
Murray became Airdrie manager in October with a focus on leading them to the League One play-offs. Next weekend’s Scottish Cup tie, though, holds an appeal on different levels for the 37-year-old.
“We really wanted a big gun in the draw,” he said. “I know a lot of teams say that but we just felt that if we got a mid-table Championship team it would be very hard for us to beat them and there wouldn’t be much finance in it.
“So we wanted Celtic, Rangers or maybe even Hibs or Hearts, and we’ve got what we wanted. Getting Celtic away has given everyone around the club a lift, not just me and the players. We couldn’t have asked for a better draw. They’re going for a treble treble and we would love to be the team to stop that if we could. But it’s going to take a huge effort and a huge amount of luck.”
Regardless of the result, Murray hopes to pick the brains of Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers after the match.
“I’ve never crossed paths with Brendan so it will be good to have a chat with him and get his thoughts on my team. It will be interesting to hear what he thinks of our players, how we could have done better in the game, and how we can improve in future. That can only be useful for my development as a manager and for the benefit of the team as well.”
Murray has already started to make his mark at Airdrie, making small tweaks such as the introduction of additional voluntary training sessions and team pre-match meals ahead of home as well as away games. It has been a restorative process given how abruptly it ended for him at St Mirren after just six months, but he doesn’t feel as if he has anything to prove.
“It’s not about me rebuilding my reputation,” he said. “I don’t think what happened over 20-odd games at St Mirren takes away from what I achieved in more than 100 games at Dumbarton.
“I loved being an assistant manager in Norway but I did sometimes miss the cut-throat element of it, of having that pressure on you. So I’m really happy to be back and hope I can make a success of this chance.
“I’d really like to be here for a long time if I could and that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes when you’re at a part-time team you’re wondering about when you’ll move to the next level. But there’s a fantastic opport-unity to rebuild here.”