Robbie Neilson today explained that Hearts will not be retaining Sean McKirdy because they believe the diminutive midfielder will be better served by attempting to kick-start his career elsewhere.
The 18-year-old is in line to make his final appearance in maroon as the club’s under-20s face Motherwell in tonight’s SFA Youth Cup final against Motherwell at Hampden.
McKirdy was the Jambos’ most highly-rated 16-year-old two seasons ago and featured regularly in first-team squads at the start of this season while aged just 17. However, Hearts, who are well stocked with experienced central midfielders, do not envisage the youngster getting the game time they feel he needs in order to progress and have informed him that he will not have his contract extended beyond this season. Neilson, who worked closely with him as his coach at under-20 level in the 2013/14 season, is confident that McKirdy can fulfil his potential at another club, with Falkirk among those monitoring his situation.
“Sean came in and had a good pre-season but the players who have come in in that position have made it hard for him to get game time,” head coach Neilson told the Evening News. “It’s easy to stockpile players and keep players who aren’t going to play first-team football but we feel he’s better to go and play first-team football elsewhere because he’s getting to an age where he needs to do that.
“I don’t feel he’s going to do it here but I hope he goes away and plays first-team football and builds himself back up to this level again. It’s really important that when guys get to a certain age, they’re playing games. If we don’t think they’re going to play, we can’t keep hold of them because it ends up stifling them and hindering them. That’s not what we want to do here. We could have kept hold of him and put him out on loan again but it’s not fair on him. If we don’t feel a player’s going to make it here, we have a responsibility to give them the freedom to go off and have a career somewhere else.”
By contrast, fellow midfielder Angus Beith, who will also feature in the Youth Cup final, is being primed for a first-team squad berth after landing a one-year contract extension last month. The 20-year-old is unable to feature in the first-team squad this season due to the terms of his recent loan move to Stenhousemuir, but he will be involved from pre-season onwards.
“We think Angus has a chance,” said Neilson. “He’s been at Stirling Albion last year and Stenhousemuir this year, and he’s done well. We see him being around the first team in pre-season and proving he can handle it. We see a pathway for him.”
Neilson will be at Hampden tonight to see Jon Daly’s youngsters attempt to win the Youth Cup for Hearts for the first time since 2000. The head coach won it himself as a Hearts player 18 years ago and recalls it as a proud milestone en route to becoming Hearts captain a decade later.
“It’s a great occasion for them,” he said. “It’ll be a great experience for them to play at Hampden. I won it in 1998 and it was great. It’s one of the biggest games you play in as a youth before you make your first-team debut. There’s a cup at stake and it’s important that they understand that because you only get one or two chances to win it. It gives them a chance to experience handling the build-up and expectation levels going into it. I hope they win it.”