Hearts coach lays down challenge to youngsters

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. Pic: JOHN DEVLIN

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. Pic: JOHN DEVLIN

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ROBBIE NEILSON has told all the youngsters in the Hearts squad that they have an opportunity to break into the first team if they excel in pre-season.

All full-time professionals, regardless of age, will train together this season at Riccarton and Neilson has challenged the teenagers who have yet to experience first-team football to catch his eye in the six weeks between now and the Championship opener away to Rangers.

“I spoke to the young boys at the end of last season and told them it was important they went away and looked after themselves. They needed to work hard over the close season and they’ve done that,” the head coach told the Evening News. “Most have been in three days a week over the summer. That gives them the best opportunity to take their chance when it comes. Pre-season’s a time when the teams will be mixed up and they’ll get put in with first-team players. If they get in and do well, it’s an opportunity for them to get into the first-team squad.”

Hearts have bolstered their Under-20 pool by handing professional contracts to last season’s Under-17 standouts Sean McKirdy, Nathan Flanagan and Ian Smith – the younger brother of first-team player David – as well as new recruits Liam Henderson and Alistair Roy, who joined from Hutchison Vale Boys Club and Stirling Albion Under-17s respectively.

“You can never say this guy will be in the first team this year or that boy won’t be,” he added. “It might be that we have a boy who’s come in straight from school and does fantastic in the pre-season games and I think, ‘actually I’m going to put him into the first team.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 25, if you do well in pre-season, there’s an opportunity to get yourself in.”