How Finlay Pollock impressed Robbie Neilson to earn Hearts debut at 16
There is a picture of Hearts starlet Finlay Pollock on the Tynecastle Park pitch alongside dad Fraser after he had made his first-team debut.
It was a moment to savour for father and son, the delight and pride clear to see.
Around the 80-minute mark of Hearts' comfortable 3-0 win over Inverness CT last month, Robbie Neilson handed the 16-year-old a deserved debut for what could, in years to come, be a notable moment.
Pollock was not a name familiar with a lot of fans when he was included in the squad, but he had been making a name for himself around the club's Oriam training base and John Rankin’s Under-18s.
It was in training games against the first-team where he really planted the seed in Neilson's head.
"Believe it or not Finlay had a hard time with injury the season before, so when we came back and trained October, November, December, Finlay caught the eye,” Rankin told the Evening News.
"He came back and he was hungry, he was fit, he was strong, he was aggressive with his runs and his quality on the ball was really, really good. And then it got shut down in January.
"The 18s played the first team in the week building up to the Scottish Cup final against Celtic in December and then we played a game again before lockdown in January. So they played two games against the first team and that’s when players catch the eye.
"I think it was before the Alloa game, the manager asked me to put together a group to play the first team. Finlay again caught the eye.”
Pollock went on to make one further appearance before the season ended, taking advantage of injuries to older players in the 18s squad.
His inclusion acted as motivation to his team-mates and Rankin admits there are players in the club’s academy who have got a “great chance”.
‘Not just being a number’
“That opened up a chance for Finlay so the rest of them are ready now and thinking ‘Finlay Pollock has got there, can I be the next one’,” the under-18s boss said.
"It’s great the manager trusts him at 16 years old. Finlay is not even full-time, he’s still at school. Having that pathway for them, kids thrive.
"You could see them coming into training after Finlay has made his debut, they become hungrier and more aggressive.
“There’s players within the group I’m really excited about, that have got a great opportunity and great chance here.
"They will be exposed to the first-team environment really, really early, whether they are 15 or 16 at the time, they are exposed to that.
"It’s a case of going over there not just being a number. They have to go over and train with the first team and have a shot, have a cross, make a challenge, make an aggressive forward run. Something which makes the players and coach go ‘wow’.
"That’s something they need to have in their mentality, they are not just going over there because the first-team is short of a player but because they deserve to be there and are there on merit.”