Up-and-coming hitman Ross Caldwell today insisted he’d love to play his part in Hibs’ bid to escape the threat of relegation after clinching a new two-year deal with the Easter Road outfit.
The teenage star has already had a taste of first-team action, albeit just five minutes as a substitute against Rangers, and he’s desperate for more.
But while he understands boss Pat Fenlon’s desire to use experienced frontmen given the Edinburgh club’s current predicament, Caldwell claimed he wouldn’t be fazed if thrown into the fight to beat the drop.
He said: “Of course it’s the manager’s decision and I’d always respect what he says and does but I don’t think I’d be scared or nervous if I was to be involved. I feel capable and if he gives me the chance I feel I am up to it.”
The 18-year-old already feels indebted to Fenlon, the Irishman having obviously spotted something in him within days of taking over as manager from Colin Calderwood as he named Caldwell among his substitutes for that ill-fated match at Motherwell which was abandoned at half-time due to a floodlight fire. Caldwell, though, didn’t have long to wait for his debut, stepping off the bench to face Rangers at Easter Road barely a week later and, he insisted, those five minutes will remain a special memory no matter where his career might take him in future.
He said: “It’s the dream of every young player to get the chance of first-team football and to do so against the champions made it a bit more special.” Although he’s scored ten goals in 16 starts for Hibs Under-19s, Caldwell admitted his form has probably faded in recent weeks as contract negotiations dragged on longer than both he and the club might have liked.
But with his immediate future now secure, the Bellshill-born youngster is now desperate to forge ahead even if he recognises his anxiety to do so has to be tempered with patience.
He said: “I think the talks over a new deal probably did affect me a bit but I’m happy it’s sorted out. A two-year contract is great security particularly at this time when there’s so many financial worries in the game, it lets me concentrate totally on football and making progress without having to worry about anything else.
“The aim now is to do the very best I can with the Under-19s but our season finishes earlier than the first team’s so hopefully I can be involved with them for a bit afterwards.”
Like a number of his younger team-mates Caldwell does train from time-to-time with Fenlon’s squad and he believes working with the likes of Garry O’Connor, Leigh Griffiths, Roy O’Donovan and Eoin Doyle can only accelerate his education.
Likened by many to a “young O’Connor,” Caldwell said: “I’ve heard that so many times but I play my game. If it happens to be similar to Garry’s then that’s all it is as I don’t try to act like anyone else.
“I’m still a young boy with a lot to learn. It’s good to be involved around the first team with the experienced players and the fact we’ve got strikers who are all different in their styles which is good for me to learn from.”
And Caldwell insisted his new deal was proof, as if it were needed, that Hibs continue to produce their own home-grown talent. Pointing out that current first-team members Paul Hanlon, David Wotherspoon, Callum Booth and Lewis Stevenson had all “come through the system” as have O’Connor and Ian Murray, back at the club for a second time, he said: “Knowing you’ll get your chance here was a big thing for me. You know that if you are doing well then you will be given your opportunity. It’s a big step from Under-19 football to the first team but the coaching staff here know me well.
“Lewis, for instance, made his debut at the age of 17, was man-of-the-match when the club won the League Cup and is now the player with the longest continuous service at Easter Road. There’s a good crop of young players coming through, Sam Stanton made his debut against Rangers at Ibrox a wee while ago, Paul Grant, the 19s goalkeeper has been on the bench and the likes of Danny Handling played for the first team at the end of last season.
“I know I was excited to see others that wee bit ahead of me making the step up, and it looks as if the manager believes that you don’t need to be a seasoned veteran to merit opportunity.”