Hibs youth coach James McDonaugh admits he has his fingers crossed all his “big guns” will be available for tomorrow night’s Under-20 derby against Capital rivals Hearts but admitted: “The first team comes first.”
McDonaugh had Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Sammy Stanton in his side as they crushed Fort William 13-1 to power into the fourth round of the Scottish Youth Cup, just 24 hours after the trio had taken their places among the subs for Hibs’ defeat at Ross County.
All three are likely to figure again in boss Pat Fenlon’s plans for Friday’s trip to Motherwell, giving rise to the possibility they, along with Alex Harris who also made the trip to Dingwall before playing on Sunday, could be involved in four matches in just seven days.
Caldwell and Handling both scored twice in the rout of Fort William after Harris had opened the scoring, all of them, like Stanton, just 18 years of age and yet finding their loyalties divided as they flit between the club’s first team and the Under-20 side. McDonaugh admitted it was a situation which was quite difficult to manage but one which he believes is bearing fruit, with Harris’ debut against Dundee earlier in the month bringing to ten the number of youngsters who have tasted first-team action since he became Head of Academy Coaching two years ago.
He insisted the task has been made much easier by the close working relationship he enjoys with Fenlon, who has been a frequent spectator at Under-20 games.
As such, the demands of this week will prompt a discussion between the pair, with McDonaugh hoping he’ll have Caldwell, Handling, Stanton and Harris available for tomorrow night’s match at Newtongrange’s New Victoria Park (kick-off 7pm). He said: “It’s well worth pointing out they are now being classed as first-team players but not one of them has yet turned 19.
“It’s a measure as well of what they have achieved but we have a young side in which Ryan Baptie, Robert Wilson, Jay Doyle, David Paul and Dougie Horne are 17 and Jamie Beaton only 16. In fact, we’ve regularly fielded a back four aged 16, 17, 17 and 18 but we don’t look at the league table, it’s all about players progressing. These four are now with the first team, the manager has been true to his word having said he’ll give young players their chance and there’s plenty more hungry kids eager to make the step up. They see there’s a good strong link between myself and the manager.”