Hearts' Champions League-style preparation aimed at ending 22-year wait for Scottish Youth Cup

Steven Naismith is employing Champions League-style preparations hoping to end Hearts’ 22-year wait for the Scottish Youth Cup.

The last Hearts team to lift the Scottish Youth Cup had a 17-year-old Craig Gordon in goal back in 2000. Rangers were the opponents back then and they stand in the Edinburgh club’s way again at Hampden Park tonight.

Naismith, in his first season as a coach, has already given Hearts Under-18s a guided tour of the National Stadium. He knows the venue intimately from playing Scotland international matches there as well as cup finals with Rangers and Kilmarnock.

“We all went over to Hampden as a squad to experience where you go in, the changing rooms, the pitch. So on Wednesday it’s not totally new,” explained Naismith.

“I likened it to being a player in the Champions League. You train in the stadium the night before the game. I was fascinated by all these places. You turn up for training and go gallivanting round the stadium trying to see as much as you can.

“I remember going to the Nou Camp and you’re just strolling about in the tunnel looking at things, trying to push doors to see behind the scenes. It’s no different for young players at Hampden.

“Some guys go through their whole careers and never get to play there. The familiarity will hopefully help.”

Hearts beat Rangers 5-3 after extra-time back in 2000 but failed to replicate that success in the intervening period. “I was surprised how long it’s been. This is the biggest thing in the season for young players,” said Naismith.

Hearts Under-18s coach Steven Naismith at Riccarton.

“The league has so many variables because players move up and down to the first team. Last time we played Rangers we had five boys with the first team, so it was basically an under-16 team.”

Some relative experience is available this time in the shape of Finlay Pollock, Mackenzie Kirk and Macaulay Tait. All three have been on the fringes of the first team.

“The first-team boys have started asking when the final is so the interest is gradually building,” said Naismith. “I’m not one for a big build-up. Even as a player, I wanted to get the job done and then enjoy it. It’s not about the big occasion or the taking part that counts, it’s about winning the trophy.

“When you’re successful, you love that feeling and you want more. It drives you as a player and it’s the same as a coach. I want to instil that in the players. I won this trophy as a player, so did Craig Gordon, and the feeling is the exact same as winning a league or cup at first-team level.”

Craig Gordon was in the last Hearts team to win the Scottish Youth Cup ... when Rangers were beaten in the 2020 final at Hampden

Having lost twice to Rangers Under-18s this season, Hearts are out to redress the balance this evening. “We’ve created chances and controlled lots of the game but didn’t take the chances. That can happen with young players but this time we want to stamp our gameplan on the match.

“Everyone sees each other’s games at this level because all the footage is shared so I don’t think there will be many surprises.”

The final is live on BBC Scotland and kicks off at 7.45pm.

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