Harry Cochrane’s tender 16-year-old frame and baby face are in stark contrast to the battle-scarred physique of the Celtic captain Scott Brown. Yet Cochrane is nothing if not fearless. The Hearts midfielder insists he is ready and willing to compete against Brown at Tynecastle this Sunday.
The Celtic juggernaut rolls into Gorgie this weekend led by Brown and seeking to extend the club’s historic unbeaten domestic run to 70 matches. Hearts manager Craig Levein would welcome the experience of a Brown, or the panache of a Scott Sinclair, or the finishing prowess of a Moussa Dembele right now. Instead, he is placing increasing faith in kids from the Riccarton youth academy.
Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over Dundee saw 16-year-olds Cochrane and Anthony McDonald stand out alongside 19-year-old Lewis Moore. In total, nine teenagers have played for Hearts already this season. With Arnaud Djoum nursing a calf injury and Jamie Walker’s hamstring tight, young Cochrane is eager for the chance to pit himself against Brown in midfield. The fact the Scotland internationalist is twice his age doesn’t faze the teenager in the slightest.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a young boy so that would be something special. It would be tough but if I manage to play against him it will be brilliant,” said Cochrane, who has only eight senior appearances to his name.
“Sunday is a huge game. I’d just be delighted to be involved if I am. It would be brilliant to beat their record. We just need to keep our heads down. We have the confidence in us, we just have to try and put in a performance.”
Brown’s competitive edge has earned him a reputation as one of the most difficult opponents in Scotland. Cochrane has some way to go to compete physically given his skinny frame is yet to fill out.
“I’d say the physicality is the biggest challenge,” admitted the teenager. “It’s hard to compete with some of the bigger boys and I’ve faced some big guys. There was Sofien Moussa against Dundee the other night. You look at him and you’re thinking: ‘He’s double the size of me.’ Thankfully I didn’t get into any battles with him. Sometimes you just need to take the hit and hopefully you win a free-kick from it.
“It was good to get the result on Tuesday. The performances have been there over the last two weeks but we needed these results and it’s great to get another win [after beating Motherwell on Saturday]. Momentum is definitely building, the confidence is there, we just need to keep it going. The atmosphere was brilliant. We have confidence in us and we just know, when we go out, that we’re going to perform well. We need to keep it going for Sunday.”
Cochrane thanked Levein for bravely promoting youth academy players earlier than even they expected. Those involved are getting to sample senior football just a few months since they left the school classroom.
“It’s brilliant, it’s just what you dream of. You want an opportunity and he is giving us that opportunity. It’s definitely come sooner than I thought. I never thought I’d be playing in the first team at the age of 16 so it’s good to get my chance.”
There is no chance of Cochrane or any other Tynecastle teen developing an early ego, however. Young professionals are still cleaning boots and doing other daily chores around the training ground to keep them grounded.
“I think it’s important that we’re still involved in about the Under-20s. That’s our age-group,” said Cochrane. “I clean Arnaud Djoum’s boots and I think Anthony is on David Milinkovic’s. It teaches discipline. Hearts keep us disciplined and make sure we aren’t getting too cocky or anything like that. Hearts are good for that.
“There’s a wee bit of banter. Nothing too cocky, just a bit of patter. It depends who you’re talking to, I suppose. You aren’t going to go up and start slagging Aaron Hughes or anything like that.”
Cochrane is also happy deriving pleasure from the success of others. McDonald’s debut on Tuesday against Dundee gave him plenty satisfaction aside from his own efforts.
“It’s exciting, really exciting. Tony will be buzzing as well. I know he’s been waiting on this for a wee while so I’m delighted for him to get his chance in the first team.
“I was buzzing for him, it was brilliant to see him playing. He’s a great player, a brilliant player who is so tidy on the ball. You can’t tackle him in training because it’s so hard to take the ball off him.”
Levein promoted McDonald partly to compensate for the injured Walker and Cochrane can see him eventually stepping into that void. “Definitely, I think he’s got the ability in him. He’s a confident boy. He just needs to keep performing like he did on Tuesday night and he’ll fly high.”