Gary Mackay: No quick fix for Hearts youngsters

Aaron Doran, left, and Richie Foran crowd out Callum Paterson. Picture: SNS
Aaron Doran, left, and Richie Foran crowd out Callum Paterson. Picture: SNS
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What’s being asked of the Hearts team at the moment is just too much for them to cope with and we saw that once again at the weekend.

We played well enough in relative terms, but Inverness are full of players who have really learnt the hard way about what is required to become a professional footballer. Most of these guys have come from the lower leagues in England and they’re all really well drilled in what it takes to make a living in the game. Most of the Hearts players, unfortunately, are not.

I must sound like a broken record, but I still can’t understand those who think that if Gary Locke made some tweaks here and there, it would make a blind bit of difference.

I hear people suggest Scott Robinson should be dropped because he’s made a few errors and hasn’t been playing particularly well. In normal circumstances that argument might be fair enough but, in the current climate, who do you bring in to replace him? If you brought in Adam King that would just bring the age of the side down even further and make us even more vulnerable.

Whatever people think of Robinson, there is no escaping the fact that he is far further down the road in his development than someone who has never played for the first team. Robinson, not so long ago, was a shining light in this much-hyped youth team of ours. An untried 18-year-old, unless he is absolutely exceptional, is not suddenly going to be a more reliable bet than a guy who at least has a few years’ experience of first-team football under his belt. People need to grasp the difference between players looking the part in the Under-20s and then being asked to hold their own in the first team. I remember how hard it was as a player going from the youth team to the reserves at Hearts, but the step-up from reserves to first team was absolutely massive.

If Hearts were in the Championship, it would be so much easier for these youngsters to try and find their feet in the first team because we are effectively operating with a First Division team in the Premiership. The pace and intensity wouldn’t be the same and, no disrespect to them, but the players playing at that level are those who, generally speaking, are not quite good enough to make it at Premiership level. That’s why I think we should have gone into administration at the end of last season and taken our medicine there and then.

To put things in perspective, I notice Dunfermline came back from two goals down to beat Ayr United on Saturday. Among their scorers were Stephen Husband and Ryan Wallace, two players who not so long ago were highly-regarded youngsters at Hearts and on the fringes of the first team when Csaba Laszlo was in charge. It is surely not unreasonable to assume that these boys are of a relatively similar standard to most of the boys in the current Hearts first team, yet they have found their level down in League One. It’s all very well Hearts saying 16 of the 18-man squad on Saturday came through the academy, but, no disrespect to these lads, how many of them are in the first-team on merit? Jamie MacDonald is the only one who has actually proven he deserves to be there.

The one positive is that, in Robbie Neilson, we now have a youth coach who knows from personal experience how big that step up is and what is required to carve a long-term career in the Scottish top-flight. There certainly seems to have been an upturn in the Under-20s’ results under Robbie over the past few weeks, so at least that gives us some reason for optimism.

In the short term, it’s hard to be optimistic about our chances at Celtic Park this weekend. What a massive test of character it’s going to be for these young lads. I remember losing 6-1 at Celtic in the early days of my career and it was a harrowing day. The current team are going there on the back of a recent 7-0 defeat by Celtic so it’s hard not to fear for them. I really do feel for the players and the management at the moment