Hibs’ Head of Academy Coaching gives insight into quintet of future stars

Ross Caldwell. Picture: Greg Macvean

Ross Caldwell. Picture: Greg Macvean

11
Have your say

JAMES McDONAUGH spends his working week nurturing what he hopes will be the next generation of Hibs players. While Pat Fenlon’s established first-team players have restored the feelgood factor to Easter Road this season, McDonaugh, the Head of Academy Coaching, has been busy preparing the supporting cast.

With clubs all across the country having to place extra emphasis on youth as they bid to overcome a lack of finance, McDonaugh has one of the most important jobs at Easter Road. He acknowledges there is a certain element of pressure in trying to groom a batch of quality young players so that they are equipped to enjoy a fruitful career in the Hibs first team. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

McDonaugh, who replaced Alistair Stevenson as Hibs’ head of youth two years ago and is mainly responsible for managing the Under-20s, has made some tweaks to the way the club develop their youngsters and is encouraged by the results. He is adamant he is overseeing the club’s best batch of youngsters since the Golden Generation of the last decade, and has been encouraged to see Fenlon, whom he has a close bond with, using Academy products on his subs bench for pretty much every game this season.

The five who have been the most prominent are the ones McDonaugh feels look the likeliest to cut the mustard. Here, Hibs’ Head of Academy Coaching gives the lowdown on the kids he feels are capable of enjoying a long-term future at Hibs.

ROSS CALDWELL

Age: 19

Position: Striker

“Ross had 90 minutes against Inverness when Leigh Griffiths was out and did very well. He is more of a target man. He’s a strong, powerful runner. He’s a real character and comes out with some crafty one-liners, but you’ve got to get to know him.

“I think some people have been quick to make judgements on him in the past, but I’ve seen him grow up from an early age and have had time to get to know him. He’s certainly one that you’ve got to get inside his head. He’s his own biggest critic, he wants to do well all the time. Unless he’s scoring goals, he’s not happy. On Tuesday night there against Falkirk, he worked his socks off, created the goal and was as good as I’ve ever seen him, but he came off the pitch angry and frustrated because he hadn’t scored. He’s a perfectionist.

“Off the pitch, he’s a very intelligent boy and really surprises you with some of the stuff he comes out with. If he’d put his mind to it he’d have done really well at school, but he didn’t really want to be there, he always wanted to be a footballer.

“He’s really kicked on as a footballer over the past few years and I’ve got really high hopes for him.”

DANNY HANDLING

Age: 18

Position: Striker

“DANNY made his Under-19 debut when he was only 16 and scored in the first minute. He’s always been a year ahead of himself.

“He’s scored loads of goals at every level and then scored seven goals on loan at Berwick last season, so there’s a lot to suggest he’ll score more goals than Ross when he breaks through. He’s got his first-team goal before Ross, so they’re nip and tuck at the moment in terms of establishing themselves.

“Danny comes into little spaces and is clever on the ball. He’s got a real intelligence of the game and links the play well, but he also has a knack of arriving in the box at just the right times to finish things off.

“He’s got a goal a game in the Under-20s this season, so he’s on fire. Off the pitch, he’s a real character. He gets the boys going and he’s one of those boys nobody could lose the head at. He’s really popular. He’s a Haddington boy and has been at club since he was ten.”

SAM STANTON

Age: 18

Position: Midfielder

“Sam’s done better than some people expected. He’s been in and out of the youth teams through the years and has had to bide his team. Last season he wasn’t a regular in the 19s team to start with, but in his first game he scored an overhead kick against Celtic and then scored another wonder goal up at Inverness, so he managed to cement himself in the team.

“He was playing wide last year, but has been playing central midfield this season and you can see his confidence and his fitness is growing all the time. He’s still got a bit of growing to do in terms of his physique, but on the ball he’s a real talent and catches the eye.

“I don’t like making comparisons, but he’s a John Collins-type. He’s a cultured, left-footed player, who can run, dribble and pass. He goes into tackles and invariably jumps up with the ball.”

ALEX HARRIS

Age: 18

Position: Midfielder

“ALEX is nicknamed ‘Boozy’ because he’s got an affro hairdo like Guillaume Beuzelin. He’s been at the club since he was ten years old, but last year was his first as a full-time footballer and even then he was only in two days a week.

“This is his first full season and he’s really kicked on with being in every day. Just two days before pre-season, his father died. That was a really difficult time for him, obviously, and the club did everything they could to help support him.

“Full credit to Alex, though, he’s really driven himself on since then. I’m sure he has his difficult moments, but he doesn’t show it. I was speaking to his mum recently and he seems to have used that tragedy as an inspiration to succeed for his dad.

“He’s been involved in a few first-team squads and made his debut this season. He’s got plenty pace and glides across the ground. He’s a real talent who has gone from strength to strength.”

BRAD DONALDSON

Age: 18

Position: Defender

“Brad’s another one who’s sneaked through under the radar. He had an up and down season last year and was really low on confidence, but I worked with him really closely at the end of last season and the start of this season, and he’s been absolutely outstanding at times.

“He’s a real proper centre-back, which is maybe something we at Hibs don’t develop enough at youth level. We always look for these lovely footballers, but Brad’s shown a great desire to go and attack the ball and just be really solid defensively. He’s got a bit of the James McPake about him.

“He’s also become a goal threat as well because of a desire to go and attack set-pieces. He’s 6ft 1in and is very athletic, so he has the legs to play at right-back as well. He’s a very focused lad, who comes from a good family.”

McDonaugh added “All these boys have fantastic attitudes, they’ve all got the determination, drive and potential to succeed. I’ll be astonished if at least a couple of them don’t go on to establish themselves in the Hibs first team, while Dean Horribine and David Gold, the Under-20s captain, are also doing really well and have a big chance of breaking through.”