After handing a 16-year-old his Scottish Premiership debut, the Hearts manager Craig Levein today revealed there are plenty more where Harry Cochrane came from.
Cochrane made his first competitive appearance for the Tynecastle side against Dundee at Dens Park last weekend. He performed admirably with a display which belied his age during the 2-1 defeat.
Others in Cochrane’s age-group have equal potential to reach senior level. Levein explained to the Evening News his hope that they will emerge from the Riccarton youth academy during the next 18 months to two years.
Several other teens in the generation below are also expected to make in impact in the first team given time. Levein’s aim is to have at least half of Hearts team comprised of academy graduates. The Edinburgh club have invested both time and money to improve facilities and standards at Riccarton. Levein predicted that fans will now start seeing that endeavour bearing fruit.
“I’m not saying there will be another three or four like Harry along next week, but that age-group is pretty good. We will feed more in as time goes on,” he said.
“Some of the ones who have been in around the first team, like Lewis Moore, Rory Currie and Jamie Brandon, these guys I’m sure will be better in two years’ time.
“We want to get to a point where we have four, five or even six players in our starting line-up who have come through the academy. If we do that, then we’ll have reached the target we set out to achieve initially.”
Cochrane became the first graduate from a Scottish FA performance school to start a Premiership match. Hearts have just launched their own performance school at Balerno High, with pupils there doubtless inspired by the young lad from Lanarkshire.
“We really like Harry, we think he’s a smashing player,” continued Levein.
“It was a set of circumstances with a couple of injuries and some other things which led to him starting his first competitive match at Dundee. However, I really have got faith in him. That group around his age are fairly good, plus we’ve got some others just below them who are actually as good or maybe even better.
“I know it’s difficult for Hearts supporters to look in from the outside and say: ‘Well, has there been any progress?’ When you’re inside and watch the kids, as I’ve done for the last three years, you can see the progress being made. I’m really looking forward to the point when Harry and some of his team-mates are playing regular first-team football for us.”
Levein praised Cochrane’s desire to compete and detailed why he is an ideal midfielder given his array of talents. “The good thing about Harry is he does a bit of everything. He’s a tough boy, he will compete, he’s all action, he’s got loads of energy, but also he’s a really good passer of the ball.
“Technically, he’s also very good. He’s an all-round midfield player. He will grow more, both in height and weight, so his physicality will improve. The Dundee game was a taster for him.
“I didn’t actually name the team until the pre-match meal, which is unusual. He would have had an idea possibly from some of the training we had done through the week. We had shifted players around in the sessions just to keep them all a little bit unsure of who was starting. I felt that would be the right thing for that match.
“We also had an injury issue with Aaron Hughes, which we knew might have caused a problem. So there were a number of different things going on. I didn’t name the team until probably two hours before the game. I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention to see what Harry’s reaction was.
“I was really pleased with him in the game, though. It was a big ask to expect a 16-year-old to come in and play against experienced players. It was his first competitive match, it was away from home, and he took a while to get going. I was really pleased with his second-half performance.”