THE noise of schoolchildren kicking off on adjacent pitches is a sharp interruption, their excited voices out of key with the conversation being held on the sidelines.

It is an uncommon intrusion since the topic of Hibernian's season has not often been discussed so close to voluble enthusiasm. The sound of a goal scored, and celebrated, somewhere nearby only causes Ian Murray to lean in to make himself heard.

It adds to the impression of a man engaging in conspiratorial whispers. That seems fitting given the erstwhile Hibs captain does not expect them to win at New Douglas Park tonight in the first leg of the SPFL Premiership play-off final with Hamilton Academical. "I've just got a feeling for them," he says.

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Murray has been invited to the Toryglen Football Regional Football Centre yesterday as the face of the TSB Junior Sevens finals but also to provide another voice to the tie involving his former club, with Hibs to visit Lanarkshire and then host the decisive game on Sunday.

Murray will watch both matches closely but his interest extends beyond the sentiment of a Hibee; as Dumbarton manager he will come up against one of those sides in the Championship next season. The personal vista for the 33-year-old already includes matches next term against Rangers and Hearts, and he is able to see meetings with Hibs being added to the fixture list as well.

A return to either side of Edinburgh would be enough to excite Murray - who also spent two seasons at Rangers - and he has become intrigued as well by the potential financial rewards which await his part-time club as a result of increases in media interest and sponsorship.

He is aware too that the campaign will carry costs and not least for Hibs, with the loss of a place in the Premiership also likely to show up clearly on the Edinburgh club's balance sheet.

"It would be financial suicide for Hibs if they were to come down," says Murray, who made more than 200 appearances for the Easter Road club spanning two spells. "I hear people saying that it is better to be in the Championship next season but if those people knew the difference in money then they would know that it is an absolute no-brainer: you need to be in the Premiership."

Dumbarton were able to hold their own against Hamilton this season - winning twice and drawing once in four matches - but Murray does not expect the Lanarkshire side to tread carefully in their play-off. "If any Hibs fan thinks Hamilton are going to be a pushover then they are going to get a rude awakening, probably within the first 10 minutes," he says.

Hibs would do well to look alive tonight, although that has at times seemed beyond a team which has been approaching the play-off as though the end of the Green Mile.

They have also had to endure the added indignity of former manager Pat Fenlon claiming that the club has lost its identity. "Pat Fenlon has a better idea than me as he has been much deeper in the club than me, certainly over the last three years," says Murray. "They have still got young Scottish players in their team - guys like Alex Harris, [Sam] Stanton and Jordon Forster - so that still gives the team an affiliation with the fans. But I don't know what goes on inside Easter Road or East Mains so it is hard for me to comment on them."