It promised to herald the dawn of another golden age at Easter Road as seven of Hibs’ outstanding Under-19 squad were rewarded with full-time contracts as they stood on the cusp of a stunning season which would see them clinch a League and Cup double.
News that strikers Kurtis Byrne and Patrick Deane, midfielders Sean Welsh, Lee Currie and David Wotherspoon along with defender Ewan Moyes and goalkeeper Thomas Flynn would be stepping up to the club’s first team rekindled memories of Tony Mowbray’s young Hibs side of a few years earlier, a team containing the likes of Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown. But in the midst of the excitement the announcement sparked, the words of then manager Mixu Paatelainen were probably lost on each of the youngsters.
While paying tribute to the work of the coaches who had paved the way for the kids to make the move from youth football to the top flight, the big Finn cautioned that much work still lay ahead. “We have some really good prospects, but they are not ready yet to go and perform at first-team level,” he warned before adding: “There’s a lot more hard work ahead of them but each has shown a lot of attributes, now they have the chance to develop and improve. If they do that they have a chance.”
Three years on, how prophetic Paatelainen’s words have proved to be. Today, of the seven who dreamed of glory in a green and white shirt, only David Wotherspoon remains at Easter Road, testimony to just how tough it can be to make it to the top. A number of factors, of course, come into play, the primary one being whether or not the individual possesses the talent, determination and application required but no doubt a few of the six who have since taken their leave will question what the future might have held for them had circumstances been different.
Since they earned those deals Hibs have had four managers, John Hughes replacing Paatelainen only weeks later before he was succeeded by Colin Calderwood who, in turn, was ousted in favour of Pat Fenlon.
No-one can say, of course, with any certainty that all seven would have made it had there not been such a turnover at the top but every manager has his own ideas and opinions on players at all levels within a club. Deane lasted only a few months into Hughes’ reign while Currie was quickly released by Calderwood and was followed out the exit door this time last year by Flynn, Moyes and Byrne, who were jettisoned along with a string of first-team regulars as the former Scottish internationalist sought, in vain as it turned out, to improve his squad. Now the departure of Welsh, who has signed a two-year contract with First Division Partick Thistle, leaves Wotherspoon as the last man standing from that particular group of promising youngsters.
Like Welsh, the other five remain in football, although of that crop, only Irish hitman Byrne can hope of SPL football next season – and that depends on newly-promoted Ross County offering him a new deal.
While there was disappointment for the six, there were successes from that Under-19 side apart from Wotherspoon. Paul Hanlon had already been promoted by Paatelainen before they hit the glory trail; Callum Booth, then only 18, returned from a loan period with Brechin to go straight into Calderwood’s side and Scott Smith, very much the “baby” of the team at 16, remains at the club and made his debut in the 5-0 League Cup win over Berwick Rangers last season.
Here we look at what has become of the six:
PATRICK DEANE: Had a trial with Montrose before signing for Darlington in January 2010. Was releaed with 13 other players as Darlington were relegated to League Two and joined Arbroath in October 2010 but moved to Dundee Junior side Jeanfield Swifts last season.
LEE CURRIE: Had spells on loan at Stenhousemuir and Stirling Albion before Calderwood released him in January 2011. Signed for Third Division Berwick Rangers and made 34 appearances for them last season. Has agreed new one-year deal at Shielfield Park.
EWAN MOYES: The nephew of Everton manager David Moyes, the big defender was on loan with Livingston, Arbroath and Brechin before being told he could leave by Calderwood last May. Had trials with Crewe Alexandra and Dundee before joining Blue Square Premier League side Gateshead, only to find himself back at Brechin for the second half of last season.
THOMAS FLYNN: The Newcastle-born goalkeeper spent four years at Easter Road but was released last summer. Joined Cowdenbeath and helped guide Colin Cameron’s side to the Second Division title. By a curious quirk of fate, he found himself facing Hibs in the fourth round of this year’s William Hill Scottish Cup when Pat Fenlon’s side squeezed through with a 3-2 win.
KURTIS BYRNE: Signed for Hibs from Norwich and scored the winning goal in both the decisive League match and again in the SFA Youth Cup final as the Edinburgh club took the League and Cup double as well, as the East of Scotland Shield. Made seven first-team appearances but spent much of his time out on loan at Stirling Albion, East Fife and Alloa Athletic before signing a one-year contract with Ross County.
SEAN WELSH: The highly-regarded midfielder has been beset by injury, including a double leg break as a young teenager, a broken foot which ruled him out of the run-in to the League and Cup double and a cartilage problem he suffered on the first day of pre-season training in Holland in the summer of 2010. Nevertheless, he was given new deals by both Hughes and Calderwood only to have his cheekbone fractured by a punch from team-mate Martin Scott in pre-season training last summer. Needed four operations and picked up an infection which threatened his eyesight. On the bench eight times but never played for Hibs. Loaned out to Stenhousemuir, Stirling Albion and Partick Thistle where he has now signed a two-year contract.