SPECULATION surrounding the future of Hibernian's 26-year-old midfield

man Pat McGinlay was yesterday firmly put on hold by the player's agent,

Bill McMurdo, despite reports that Celtic are preparing a bid of around

#400,000 for the man who went to Easter Road on a free transfer from

Blackpool six years ago.

McGinlay, who has scored almost 30 goals from the midfield over the

last two seasons, will be out of contract at the end of the month and

has made no secret of the fact that if Celtic made a move for him, he

would be most interested in hearing what they had to say.

I understand, however, that the Easter Road club has refused Celtic

permission to speak to the player while he is still under contract, and

matters look likely to stay that way until the month is out.

''We will not be speaking to any club about Pat's situation until July

1 at the earliest,'' said McMurdo. ''When his contract with Hibs

expires, we will listen to all interested parties. At present, two

English sides and one Scottish club have shown an interest.''

Despite the delay in signing talks, however, it is almost certain

McGinlay will not be at Easter Road next season. And Celtic must be

favourites to take him to Parkhead, despite the moves from England,

believed to be from Nottingham Forest and Sunderland.

Meanwhile, Celtic and CR Smith have teamed up again in a four-year

shirt sponsorship deal which is worth just more than #1m to the premier

division side. Yesterday's announcement is expected to be followed up

next week with news of the club's financial package, which they say will

enable them to move to a new stadium in Cambuslang.

That package will have to be more impressive than the one finalised

yesterday, and until work starts on Celtic's dream home, outsiders

remain entitled to be sceptical.

However, the optimism which was evident around Celtic Park last week

when Liam Brady disclosed that Joe Jordan had agreed to become assistant

manager, could be felt again as Celtic's chairman Kein Kelly said: ''CR

Smith have provided valuable support in the past and their renewed

commitment reflects the optimism both of us feel about the future.''

The chairman also pointed out that the sponsorship marks the launch of

a new strip. The bands have been broadened and the collar design altered

and although it will probably sell in the shops, the traditionalists

might argue that the hoops are no longer the same.

Gerard Eadie, managing director of CR Smith, who withdrew from Celtic

Park in 1991 after a seven-year stint, said he felt the time was right

to become involved again.