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Sunday 23 September 2018

Lennon hopes to fire up stokes in Scotland

Anthony Stokes is pictured with the Scottish FA Cup, which he won with Hibernian last year. Pic: Getty
Anthony Stokes is pictured with the Scottish FA Cup, which he won with Hibernian last year. Pic: Getty

Can Easter Road offer Anthony Stokes the chance to save his career from ending before the player has even reached his 30th birthday?

Hibernian boss Neil Lennon hopes so, at least, as he has offered Stokes - who turns 29 today - the chance to rescue his flagging career in Scotland with a move to the newly-promoted Hibs.

This time ten years ago, Stokes was a senior Ireland international and part of Roy Keane's Irish-influenced Sunderland squad which was gearing up for the new Premier League season.

But a decade on and the Dubliner is, again, at a crossroads. Last week it was announced that Stokes and Blackburn Rovers had parted ways, just one season into the three-year deal he signed last summer, and Stokes was a free agent. His time at Ewood Park was a disaster, for both parties: the striker played very little football, just two league starts, only 13 appearances in all and three goals, while Rovers were relegated to the third tier.

Stokes was not involved for part of last season due to personal reasons, as Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray revealed.

"We have had a few personal issues with Anthony from the day that I walked in really," Mowbray said last April. "What has probably kept him out of the picture is stuff that has been going on off the pitch rather than on the pitch.

"I'm trying to manage that situation the best I can and the supporters should know that there's no fall-out between me and Stokesy, everything is fine, he's just looking after certain aspects of his life at the moment and if and when he's ready to come in and impact on the team we'll get him ready." Earlier this year Stokes was given a two-year suspended sentence at Dublin circuit court over an assault charge.

Now he's a free agent he can find a new club without the burden of a transfer fee and Lennon is keen to bring Stokes back to Edinburgh, as part of a Hibs side who are back in the SPL for next season.

Stokes has one of the best spells of his career at Hibs (2009-10), and Lennon feels that he can bring the player, who worked under Lennon at Celtic, back to something approaching his best.

"I'm trying to bring him in because I think he's a good player," said Lennon.

"He's won championships, he's won cups and I think his best performances have come when he's played in Scotland whether it be here, Falkirk or Celtic. So it's an environment that he's very comfortable in and can prosper in.

"I can't comment on his personal issues but the majority of those issues are resolved and behind him now."

"It's important that he gets back playing football. He's 28-29 now. He has a bit to prove to people but I believe he has qualities that will enhance us.

Best

"If we can get the deal done then great, if we can't we move on. But I do think his best years came under me at Celtic so I think that will certainly work in my favour."

Stokes and his agent are this week assessing offers before deciding on a move.

Earlier this year he was heavily linked with a move to Poland, as a number of clubs there were keen on the former Arsenal man, but a move to Jagiellonia Bialystok fell through when they were unable to agree terms with Stokes.

Jagiellonia instead signed compatriot Cillian Sheridan in mid-season, the Cavan man going on to star for the Polish side as they enjoyed their best-ever season in the top flight there, finishing second in the league and qualifying for the Europa League, though their European campaign ended with a defeat to Kazakhstani opposition last week.

Stokes' international career has ground to a halt in recent years.

He was just 18 when Steve Staunton handed him his senior Ireland debut, away to San Marino in a Euro qualifier, he was also capped by Giovanni Trapattoni and played in Martin O'Neill's first game in charge of the Republic, against Latvia.

But his last appearance was against the USA in 2014 as he has struggled to make the squad of late.

Hibernian, back in the Scottish top flight, begin their new season in the Scottish Premiership at the end of next week and Lennon is keen to strengthen his squad for the challenging campaign ahead.

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