BRADLEY Donaldson’s name has become familiar to Hibs fans in recent weeks, his face less so.
The 18-year-old has emerged as a regular in Pat Fenlon’s first-team squad but despite having taken a seat on the bench in no less than ten matches, he’s yet to set foot on the pitch.
While happy to be part of Fenlon’s plans, however, the young defender insists he’s determined to continue making progress, setting himself the target of making his debut in a green-and-white shirt before the end of this season.
Having started the season as a member of Hibs’ Under-20 side, the steps Donaldson has already taken in his promising career have earned him a contract extension, the defender last week signing, along with teenage midfielder Alex Harris, a deal which will keep him at Easter Road until the summer of next year.
Although he appears to have come from nowhere, however. Donaldson has actually been on Hibs’ books since the age of eight and is able to trace his links with the club back even further having attended his first match at Easter Road as a toddler of “two or three”.
Brought up in Moredun, Donaldson lists the obvious names of Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy and David Zitelli as his heroes in those early years, but it is following in the footsteps of the likes of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker, all high-profile products of Hibs’ youth system which is now his aim.
One of 11 members of Fenlon’s 26-man first-team squad who can count themselves as homegrown, Donaldson said: “I’ve been at the club since I was eight but I was taken to my first game when I was a toddler, I think I was two or three.
“It’s always been a dream to play for Hibs. The likes of Sauzee, Latapy and Zitelli were my favourite players and further down the line players who came through the youth system such as Brown, Thomson and Whittaker thinking ‘that could be me’.
“The long-term goal has been to be a first-team player. I’ve been on the bench for ten games but I’ve still to make my debut. I’m knocking on the door and there has been steady progress, I would say.
“I’ve been working hard trying to get this new contract so I’m delighted it’s come along. It’s been great to be involved with the first team but I’ve not managed to get on the pitch.Hopefully that will come soon. It’s got to be my main aim before the end of the season.”
Donaldson has come close on two or three occasions to realising that dream, finding himself the only defender listed among the substitutes for the trip to face St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in late November, a match in which Lewis Stevenson picked up a knock which threatened to curtail his involvement. This prompted some “butterflies in the stomach”, as did the sight of Ryan McGivern going down injured against both Hearts and Celtic.
He said: “We have a shortage of defenders at the moment but while getting the opportunity to be on the bench has been brilliant, I hope to kick on from there. I started the season at right-back but centre-half is my preferred position, I feel I am probably stronger there but I’d be happy to get the opportunity anywhere in the team.”
Donaldson, who has scored six goals at Under-20 level this season, admitted he doesn’t have far to look for inspiration with Harris having already got a brief taste of top level action while others such as Sam Stanton, currently on loan at Cowdenbeath, Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling have also regularly featured on match days.
However, it was seeing fellow Hibs kid Paul Grant, like himself a former pupil at Liberton High School, take a seat on the bench for last season’s Scottish Cup final which highlighted, not only to him but other youngsters at the club, that they, too, could realise their dream. Nick-named Bobo, Grant found himself as the goalkeeping understudy to Mark Brown at Hampden after Graham Stack sustained a serious thigh injury in the semi-final win against Aberdeen.
Donaldson, who played boys football with Hunterfield at Gorebridge, Cavalry Park and Edina Hibs before signing on at Easter Road, told Hibs TV: “I think seeing Bobo on the bench that day, although it was not in the best of circumstances, pushed everyone on, it made us think there was a few of us who could make the step up.”