Pulis savours final honour
Plans to make last appearance for Hibs in next season’s Europa League
Hibernians ensured long-serving defender Adrian Pulis ended the last full season of his playing career with another honour under his belt after a straightforward 3-1 victory against Qormi brought a 10th FA Trophy success for the club from Paola.
A quick brace from striker Luis Edison ‘Tarabai’ and a stoppage-time goal from fellow Brazilian countryman Jackson Lima enabled Hibs to retain the KO title, a success that helped to assuage the disappointment of their defeat to Birkirkara in the league title decider earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Adrian Pulis started as a substitute but his experience came in handy when he was summoned from the bench by coach Michael Woods to replace the injured Jonathan Pearson after 63 minutes.
“I’m happy to have concluded my last season as a player on a top note,” Pulis told Times of Malta.
“I also wished to win the league title with Hibs and do the double but in life, it’s not always possible to have everything.
“We have a good group of players at Hibs and the atmosphere is great. We were coming from a very difficult week after losing the title decider but we managed to lift the mood ahead of our Trophy commitments.
“This team has shown character and this made it possible for us to reach our target of winning the FA Trophy.”
Pulis, who plans to don the Hibs shirt for one last time in the team’s home leg of their Europa League tie next season, explained that his decision to retire was not due to fitness concerns.
“It has nothing to do with my fitness,” Pulis, 34, said. “I feel the time has come to dedicate myself to the two main priorities in my life, my family and my work.
“I couldn’t commit myself to another year of football as it’s very demanding, Monday to Sunday.
“If I wanted, I could have continued for another season as I’ve got another year left on my contract but I explained my situation to the club president (Tony Bezzina) and he understood my position.
“I’ve told the president that I’d be more than willing to help out if Hibs need me at some point next season but my aim is to play my last game for the club in the home leg of the Europa League match.”
Pulis’s final season has been an up-and-down affair as the former Malta international was plagued by a few niggling injuries but he has no recriminations.
“I’ve had a good season,” Pulis said. “I’ve virtually played a part in all games when I was fit. I’ve had a few injuries but the positives outweigh the negatives.
“In the last weeks of the season, I lost my place in the starting team after the coach decided to switch to 3-5-2 but then, someone has to be dropped. The decision lies with the coach.”
Despite expectations of a balanced final, there were no doubts where the cup was heading for after Tarabai fired Hibs ahead eight minutes into the second half.
Hibs went on to replicate the scoreline of last year’s final and the pattern of the game was also very similar with Qormi never seeming capable of matching the skills and flair of their opponents.
“As a team, we knew that, with all respect to Qormi, we were better than them,” Pulis said. “In a way, we had played a final before the final when we beat Valletta in the semis.
“Once we had cleared that hurdle, we were confident of winning the Trophy.
“It was not as easy as it looked and there were moments when Qormi put us under pressure. There’s no denying that the early withdrawal of Alfred Effiong was a big setback for them as he is a player who can make the difference.”
Although Hibs were delighted at their Trophy victory, Pulis echoed team-mate Andrew Cohen’s feelings that their KO success has not erased the painful memories of their title loss.
“The FA Trophy is a great competition but for the players and the supporters, it hasn’t wiped out the pain of our defeat in the title decider,” Pulis said.
“We can only banish that disappointment by winning the league.”
Hibs will have to do that without Pulis next season but the lanky defender is keen to maintain his ties with the club.
“I’ve offered to help the team in a different capacity in the future,” Pulis said.
“I will remain loyal to the club which has been part of my life for the last 13 years.”
Pulis is confident that Hibs have solid foundations to keep challenging for the major domestic honours in the coming years.
“With the nucleus of players we have, I honestly believe that we had all the credentials to attain all our objectives this season,” Pulis said.
“Our foreigners are among the best in the Premier League and that also applies to our Maltese players.
“If the club make a few additions to the squad, especially Maltese players, and build on the existing qualities, Hibs can recapture the title.”
Since joining Hibs from St Patrick in 2000, Pulis has captured several honours and also scored some memorable goals despite being mostly deployed in defence.
“I cherish all the titles I’ve won with Hibs but the happiest moment was when I was only 21 and we were crowned champions.
“The following season, I scored in the home leg of our Champions League match against Shel-bourne,” Pulis reminisced.
“I also treasure the goal I scored against Birkirkara from the halfway line in season 2008-09.
“The team was like my second family as players like myself, Mario Muscat, Andrew Cohen and Aaron Xuereb grew up together.
“We’ve shared many happy moments but also cried in difficult times for the team.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my team-mates and all the coaches I’ve had, president Sur Tony, his son Ranier, Jesmond Abela and the committee members and fans for their support.”