HEARTS youngster Leon Jones admitted today that he’s using the example set by Jordan McGhee to help spur him on to success for both club and country.
Jones, just 15 years old, is one of the Tynecastle club’s rising stars and is also beginning to make his mark on the international scene.
He has been named in the Scotland Under-16 squad for tomorrow night’s Victory Shield finale against England and, on occasions this year, has also been propelled into the Hearts Under-20s.
The youngster’s natural position of central defence is the same as that of McGhee and Jones has watched on in awe as the 17-year-old has cemented a place in the Hearts first team, as well as becoming an established member of the Scotland Under-21s squad.
Jones says McGhee’s development has been an inspiration to both him and fellow Jambo Sean McKirdy, who also is Scott Booth’s squad for the game against England.
Jones said: “Sean and me have been pushed up to the Under-20s a few times this season because guys like Jordan McGhee have been moved into the first team.
“That’s been good experience for us and it is also good to see what the younger players are achieving at Hearts right now.
“Jordan plays for Scotland Under-21s and he is involved with the Hearts first team now.
“He plays the same position as me too, so you can relate to him. I see him pushing his way into the first team and getting games and you just want to emulate the same kind of things that he has done.”
The Scotland squad, which also features Hibs midfielder Ben Stirling, take on England at Stark’s Park, knowing that a win or even a draw will be enough for them to lift the Victory Shield.
Scotland last won the Shield outright back in 1998 – although they shared the honours in 2003 with England – and, ironically, that was the year that this group of players were born.
Jones revealed that a number of the Hearts first-team squad have been encouraging him and wishing him all the best for what will be a huge occasion for these young players.
“A lot of the older boys have been trying to encourage us and have been saying that they’ll be keeping their fingers crossed for us and that they will be watching the game tomorrow night. They obviously want us to do well and it has been really good for both of us.”
Jones admitted that it would be a huge moment if they could win the tournament and is hoping that a big support will be there to cheer them on.
The player’s mum, dad, two sisters, a host of other family and friends and even his school’s headteacher will be in the crowd tomorrow and he continued: “Because we’re in front of a home crowd it will give all of the boys a real lift. We want to do it for the fans but also for ourselves. It is a big occasion and we definitely want to win it.
“We haven’t won the Shield for a long time and it would great to be part of the side that did it for the first time since 1998.”
The youngsters have been staying in a hotel in Dunfermline as part of their build-up to Friday night’s game and Booth and Co have been trying to keep their players’ feet on the ground.
“I think they’re trying to calm us down,” Jones added. “They don’t want us getting over-excited or over-nervous before the game.
“They want us to be able to focus on what we need to do in the game. Hopefully, we will be able to put into practice everything that we have learned and give a really good performance against England tomorrow.”
Former Aberdeen and Scotland striker Booth believes that the feel-good factor which the senior national squad has been enjoying since Gordon Strachan’s arrival as manager earlier this year has now started to drip right down through the age groups.
He said: “It definitely filters down the age groups, from 21s to 19s to 17s. It goes right through. The feel-good factor would again go up if we win this competition and it’s exactly the same with the national team.
“We’ll take as much of the feel-good factor as we can get at the moment. We are doing a programme here that is long-term and the more the feel-good factor stays here with us throughout that, then the better chance we have of getting where we want to be. It’s a long-term project for the next ten, 15, 20 years.”