LIAM SMITH wants more clubs to follow Hearts’ example and promote young players into their first-team squads. The defender is one of nine Tynecastle youngsters with senior experience preparing for tonight’s Youth Cup final against Motherwell.
Early baptisms for players like Callum Paterson, Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson and Jordan McGhee have served the Edinburgh club well in recent seasons. Smith himself enjoyed a run at first-team level in the last few weeks and looked assured.
He believes clubs like Hearts and Motherwell offer models which others can follow. “Hearts are a massive club who are doing well, but we still put young players in and give them a chance,” he said. “The boys will look at this and think if they do well in a final it will show the manager they can be trusted to go and do it on a Saturday as well
“I think if your youth players are good enough to come into the team and play, it can only help every club. You don’t need to spend money on players and it looks better if they are promoting young players.
“Hearts have shown you can be successful by doing that. I think every club should look to promote youngsters. We train with the first team a lot and at Riccarton. All the young boys are around the first team a lot and we know them. That helps when you are making the step up as it is not so daunting. Maybe at some clubs it is separate but at Hearts we are all very together. All the first team are very supportive. They talk to the young lads every day and are hoping we can do well tonight.
Smith admits there is pressure on both sets of youngsters ahead of the big occasion at Hampden. He is one of few who can call upon previous experience of the national stadium.
“I actually played at Hampden last season [on loan] for East Fife against Queen’s Park. I have been there watching Scotland when the stadium has been full. It is a terrific stadium. East Fife lost 2-0 so hopefully this time it will be a better result and we can lift the trophy.
“We are all young boys and playing on a big stage might get the better of some people. If we can handle our nerves and focus on what we have to do, then we will do well. The coaches are talking to us all the time, telling us about their experiences. That is a big help and benefit.”