That he would rather be a relatively small fish in a big pond, and not the opposite, is indicative of Scott Taggart’s professional ambition. The Hibs youngster will reach a crossroads in the next few days as his current loan deal at Third Division Stranraer expires, but there is no doubt in the mind of the 19-year-old where he wants to continue his football education.
As much as he has enjoyed helping lift Stranraer into the Third Division play-off spots and would like to help the Wigtownshire club battle for promotion, Taggart is targeting a swift return to Easter Road following Saturday’s meeting with Peterhead in order to show new boss Pat Fenlon what he can do on a match stage – although he has already had the opportunity to impress the Irishman in daily training sessions at Hibs’ East Mains base.
“My last game’s on Saturday and my loan officially ends on Tuesday, and I still have to speak to the manager about whether I go back there or not. I would rather come back and play for Hibs every week. I think I can come back and challenge for a place, and if I get a couple of games I can show people what I can do.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do in training. I think I could give the team a lot of energy, create some opportunities and defend well.”
Taggart sees Callum Booth as a prime example of the rewards to be gained from a loan spell in the first team of a lower division club. This time last year, Booth returned from a loan spell at Brechin City in the Second Division and subsequently broke into the Hibs senior team, making his debut in January against Motherwell. Booth’s spell at Brechin yielded six wins and just one loss in 11 league games, and Taggart has enjoyed similar success as Stranraer have climbed to third place in the fourth tier of Scottish football.
Should he be given a chance to shine in the Hibs first team, Taggart will attempt to cement the right-back slot many considered his to lose after he performed well in that position against Falkirk in a pre-season friendly. Colin Calderwood, though, had other ideas.
“He said basically I needed some games, that he would rather have me playing games every week and getting experience of senior football and that when I come back, I would be ready,” said Taggart. “He said if I was doing well – kind of what Callum Booth did at Brechin – he could have thrown me in.
“That’s exactly what I want to do. It shows if you do well, you can get in. It’s obviously not the same playing for Stranraer as for Hibs, but it gives you help for when you do get thrown in. It’s made me more physical in the game, playing against old men every week.
“I think most of the Stranraer boys understand what my loan spell was about. I’ll still keep in contact with most of them, and they’d be happy for me to go back. Keith Knox [Stranraer manager] has said I’ve been doing brilliant for them, every week to keep doing what I’ve been doing. We’ve been on a good run and obviously I would like to help Stranraer to promotion, but I’d rather play in the SPL first and foremost.”
Perhaps the highlight of Taggart’s stint as part of the setup at the south-west Scotland club came five days ago, when he nodded past fellow Hibs under-19 loanee Callum Antell during Stranraer’s 6-0 demolition of East Stirlingshire. Goalkeeper Antell and midfielder Lewis Horner are temporarily tied to Shire and have been the butt of dressing room jokes bandied about by Taggart in the past few days.
“I thought it was funny,” said Taggart. “It’s was weird because I train with them Monday to Friday and to come up against them was strange – I’ve only ever played with them. I was winding them up the week before, but once I was playing against them it was just about football. That was my first senior goal – it was a great feeling. Callum didn’t really want to see me after the game and was hiding from me on Monday!”
Away from matchdays with Stranraer, Taggart has retained strong links with Hibs by reporting for training at East Mains on weekdays as normal. Indeed, his contact with Stranraer is minimal as he joins up with Keith Knox’s side on a Thursday night practice session in Glasgow before a weekend game. His schedule has built in Taggart a keen sense of contrast between life at the upper and lower levels of senior football.
“It’s definitely a different environment to playing under-19 football with Hibs,” he said. “Winning is a bigger thing than at under-19, where it is more about development. I feel I have dealt with pressure well, and that’s why I played almost every game. Playing in front of crowds is a good experience – it’s not the same as a few thousand, but they shout a bit more.
“I think the football is more direct, I must say. We’ll try to get the ball into the box, whereas with the 19s we try to keep the ball and build up.
“The players there have been very welcoming. You are just going there, not knowing anyone. I was at Ayr United on loan last season, so knew what to expect a bit more this season. I think it helped me to not be so shy, just to act yourself. It gave me a good experience.”
It’s the latest learning curve of the youngster’s upwardly mobile career. Four years ago, Taggart, from Kilsyth, was the stand-out in a North Lanarkshire select team that played against Hibs in a friendly. Bill Hendry, Academy Manager at Hibs, was sufficiently impressed to offer the pupil of Cumbernauld’s St Maurice’s High School a trial within days of the game and he performed well once more earn a contract.
“It was brilliant for me, especially so young, because obviously a lot of my mates still played in boys club football,” recalled Taggart. “Most of my friends have all got jobs and went to university. I hadn’t even thought about what I’d want to do after leaving school, but I probably would have gone to university and studied something to do with sport.”
Now, having excelled in his first test of first-team football, Taggart has a place on the right of the Hibs back four in his sights.
“I think I’m more of an attacking defender than I am a big tackler – I’m more looking to go forward. I think Dani Alves is a perfect example of what I’d like to be.”
Barcelona’s Brazilian right-back Alves had to start his rise to stardom somewhere, but whether his clone can emerge from the unlikely setting of Stair Park, Stranraer could be subject to judgement at Easter Road in the coming months.