It has been a long time coming but Hibernians can finally call themselves this season’s Maltese champions.
Hibernians bagged their 13th Maltese title after capitalising on Floriana’s draw against Ħamrun Spartans on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Paolites produced another strong display to cancel Birkirkara’s one-goal lead and register a 3-1 victory thanks to goals from Jurgen Degabriele, Dunstan Vella and Raphael that propelled them to their first piece of silverware since their 2016-17 title.
Despite Floriana’s late rally to try and hijack Hibernians’ plans, the Paolites were clearly the best team and they underlined it from day one.
They have been leading the standings from the start of the season and maintained their leadership almost every weekend.
Hibernians produced a remarkable showing, amassing 54 points following 15 wins and nine draws in 26 outings to commemorate the club’s 100th anniversary in the best possible way.
Most of all though, it is a fitting tribute to former club president Tony Bezzina, who passed away in 2021.
“We are happy to commemorate the club’s anniversary with this title,” coach Stefano Sanderra said after the game.
“We always kept president Tony Bezzina in mind during this period and I dedicate this triumph to him as well.”
Bezzina, who served as president of Hibernians for more than four decades and was the longest-serving president in the top-flight after 43 years in his role, was also in the thoughts of club captain Andrei Agius and Degabriele, Hibernians’ hero thanks to his attacking displays.
“Undoubtedly, this championship is dedicated to the late president Tony Bezzina,” both players underlined.
For Bezzina’s successor, this title evokes the memory of previous celebrations under the tenure of Mr Tony.
Ranier Bezzina, son of Tony, took over from his father to run Hibernians and he has won his first title as club president.
“I’m thinking of my father after winning this title,” he said.
Team Manager Jesmond Abela also echoed Bezzina’s thoughts, joining him in commemorating the memory of the former president while ushering a new era for further success. The sights will now set on the FA Trophy to complete a domestic double that has not been done by Hibernians since the 1981/1982 season.
Italian tactician Stefano Sanderra has assembled a well-organised side that has rarely changed faces during his tenure.
His standard 3-5-2 formation has proved him right even though this is just his first title since being appointed as Hibs’ coach in 2018.
He started his spell in Malta with a bittersweet defeat after a penalty shoot-out in the 2018-19 title decider against Valletta.
The following two campaigns were halted midway through the season due to the COVID-19, denying Hibs any opportunity to battle for the title until the end.
Yet, Sanderra’s side has always looked competitive and it was a matter of time before the club’s astute project would pay dividends.
“I have to thank the players for such a feedback,” Sanderra explained.
“One of my targets was to help them improve as individuals and they repaid me with a fantastic season.”
The former Latina coach, with whom he had won the only silverware in his coaching career, heaped praise on Floriana and fellow Italian colleague Gianluca Atzori for their title challenge.
Both teams will cross swords in the FA Trophy semis on May 11.
Club captain Agius pointed out that the club was brave enough to stand up and show their character after their European run which had ended in a disappointing elimination at the hands of Latvia’s Riga after being within touching distance from becoming Malta’s first-ever team in the play-off round of a UEFA club competition.
“It has been a long season for us having played in the European qualifiers,” Agius said.
“We started very well but had some hiccups during the month of January.
“Nonetheless, we never lost sight of our objective and our resilience propelled us to this success.”