Harry Cochrane, Bobby Burns, Callumn Morrison, Anthony McDonald and Aidan Keena are all included in a strong Hearts Colts squad for tonight’s Irn-Bru Challenge Cup tie against Ross County.
The Tynecastle Park youngsters enter the competition with a home fixture and coach Andy Kirk will call upon several members of the first-team squad.
A rule change means colts sides in the Challenge Cup can now include youngsters up to the under-21 age-group instead of the previous under-20 limit. For this season, that means anyone born in 1998 or after is eligible. A maximum of two overage players can also feature.
Cochrane, Burns, Morrison, McDonald and Keena all come into the appropriate category. They have all played competitively for Hearts at first-team level this season and will be important figures this evening.
“They are all the right age and will all be involved in the squad,” Kirk told the Evening News. “Our squad is pretty good, it’s as strong as it could be. I’m looking at two or three different options for the team.
“I went to watch Ross County at the weekend and we have other clips and videos of them. We look at their strengths and weaknesses, similar to what the first-team do.
“Ross County could come full-strength or they might use some fringe players who need game time. You don’t know how seriously they will treat it. For us, it’s a competitive game and the younger lads don’t get that too often.
“Last year, beating Formartine 3-2 in extra-time was a great experience for them. Playing St Mirren at Paisley was another good experience and they dealt really well with it. We will put them in a shape that suits the players we have and hopefully they carry out our instructions on the night.”
Hearts’ philosophy remains the same as it was when owner Ann Budge and manager Craig Levein strolled into Tynecastle four years ago: Developing youth is vital and this competition will be used that way.
“Craig is really good. I have a chat with him at the end of each week about who I might be getting for the games at the start of the following week. You always get a good heads-up,” explained Kirk, who will manage Hearts reserves this season.
“Sometimes he has to be careful if there are a few niggling injuries. He doesn’t want to take risks but he is keen to make sure everybody plays, which is good for me. I think that’s the right way to do it.
“Players need to play football on a regular basis so, with everything being well and everybody being fit, that’s how it will work. If the boys aren’t involved with the first team and they need games then they will play in the reserves.”
By using the aforementioned quintet of players, Kirk hopes to harness the positivity coursing through Riccarton at the moment. Hearts are top of the Premiership after two matches and just beat champions Celtic.
“We are quite close here,” he said. “With any football club, if the first team is winning then everybody feels good. This is our first competitive game. The first team started their season really well so the atmosphere about the place is really good.
“A lot of our players have been involved around the first team, maybe on the bench or training with them. Hopefully they take the positive vibes from that and bring it through to us.”
It remains to be seen if Don Cowie plays for Ross County after agreeing to return there from Hearts. “Don always had time for youngsters here. He would help them and speak to them,” said Kirk “I’m sure he will do well and if he plays then it’s another bit of a challenge for us to play against.”
• Tonight’s Irn-Bru Cup tie is a 7.30pm kick-off at Tynecastle Park. Entry is £5 adults/£2 concessions and can be paid at the gate.