HIBERNIAN may be ahead of schedule this season, but chief executive Leeann Dempster insists they will be ready to compete in Europe if they can clinch qualification in the coming weeks.

The Easter Road outfit have second place in the Premiership in their sights, which would be a remarkable achievement for their first year back in the top flight, but even if they fall short, they are still in line to return to continental competition for the third time in six years if they can hang on to their current fourth spot.

Dempster admits regularly competing in Europe is part of the capital club’s ambition for future years, but the chief executive confesses she did not expect it to be a possibility so soon after promotion following three difficult years in the Championship.

“We’re probably ahead of expectation at the moment, if the truth be told,” she said. “I expected us to be in the top six. I hoped we would comfortably be in the top six and I think it’s fair to say we’ve achieved that.

“The plan for the club is to get us into the position where we are regularly having the opportunity to qualify for European competition.

“Having the opportunity this season has probably come towards us, if I’m honest, quicker than we expected.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not ready for it or not looking forward to it, should it happen. But that is the trajectory of the club over the course of the next two, three, four, five years, that we get into the situation, we hope, where we are regularly competing for a European spot.

“That puts a lot of pressure on us, that is a big ask. It’s not going to happen overnight and, equally, it’s not going to happen by pure luck. It’s going to happen by good planning and by some hard work and great recruitment.”