Whitehill Welfare, in bidding to reach the second round of the Scottish Cup this Saturday, will encounter a hungry former Hibs youngster intent on forcing his way back into the big time.
After four years in the Easter Road club’s youth ranks, 19-year-old Jay Doyle’s dream of following his peers, Alex Harris, Sam Stanton, Jordon Forster, Jason Cummings and Danny Handling, into the first team were dashed when he was released at the end of last season after injury problems hindered his progress.
The striker has since fixed himself up with League Two side East Stirlingshire, who will arrive in Rosewell this weekend as marginal favourites for their showdown with a Whitehill side riding high in the Lowland League.
No-one can accuse Doyle of not taking his opportunity at Shire seriously; for instance, he has already done his own homework on this weekend’s non-league opponents. “Once we found out who we were playing I looked them up and saw that they’ve been going well,” he said. “They’re unbeaten in the league and have won five and drawn five, so it’s not going to be easy.”
This weekend’s clash will be Doyle’s first senior match in the Lothians as he failed to register a single appearance for Hibs. The Bathgate boy is philosophical about how his time at Easter Road panned out. “There was a point when I was scoring goals in the youth team and I was starting to think, if I could keep it going, it might happen for me at Hibs, but things didn’t work out,” he explained. “I knew for quite a long time I was going to be leaving Hibs. I was injured quite a lot last season and when I did play I wasn’t match fit, so when I got told I was leaving it didn’t come as much of a shock. Finding out early was a help because it gave me a lot of time to look at finding a new club in the summer.”
Although Doyle, pictured below, is resigned to a spell in the part-time ranks for now, he takes inspiration from former Queen’s Park pair Blair Spittal and Andrew Robertson, who were both headhunted from the lowest tier of Scottish football by Dundee United. “I’m going to get a chance to play first-team football at East Stirling and if you do well in this league, the likes of Andy Robertson and Blair Spittal have shown that you still have a chance of getting a big move,” he said. “There are obviously people that go and watch games at that level.”
The hardest aspect of leaving Hibs for Doyle has been trying to find employment to augment his part-time football. “When I left school and became a full-time footballer, I thought this could be my big chance, but obviously it never worked out like that,” he said. “I’ve started applying for jobs, but it’s hard when people ask what experience you’ve got and you have to tell them you’ve just been a footballer all your life and you’ve not got any experience of working. It’s difficult.”
While Doyle adapts to life away from full-time football, two of his released Hibs pals managed to get themselves fixed up with Premiership clubs in the summer. Ryan Baptie, the 19-year-old left-back, was snapped up by Inverness, while Kilmarnock took 20-year-old midfielder Euan Smith and subsequently loaned him to League Two side Clyde.
“Baptie got told he was going to get a contract at Hibs but when they got relegated, that changed,” Doyle explained. “He was devastated, but he’s done really well for himself. I speak to him quite a lot and he’s enjoying it up there. I’m good friends with Euan as well and I played against him a few weeks ago – it was the day I scored my first-ever senior goal and we won 1-0, so we had a bit of a laugh after that.
“Hopefully he can do well at Clyde and then force his way into the Kilmarnock team.”