Senior Hearts players to look after teenager Finlay Pollock as Andy Halliday takes lead role

The emergence of 17-year-old Finlay Pollock in recent months supplements the excitement for Hearts fans returning to Tynecastle Park.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 10:30 pm
Finlay Pollock is congratulated by Hearts manager Robbie Neilson on Tuesday.
Finlay Pollock is congratulated by Hearts manager Robbie Neilson on Tuesday.

An attacking midfielder recently graduated from the Riccarton youth academy, Pollock offers energy, bite, plus the potential for goals and assists. A dominant performance on his first senior start in Tuesday night’s Premier Sports Cup win against Cove Rangers showcased much of the above.

Supporters have lamented too many failed Hearts signings in recent years – some earning high salaries on long-term contracts – and are understandably relieved to see a local lad progress. Pollock's midweek display coincided with fans re-entering Tynecastle for the first time since Covid 19 restricted them to living-room football streaming.

The youngster’s inexperience is an obvious issue. He signed his first professional contract in June and so far has only four competitive appearances to his name – two last season and two this term. Indications are that he harbours the attributes to develop into an asset, but he will need guidance.

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Thankfully Hearts are not short in this area. Established midfielders like Andy Halliday and Peter Haring can help the nurturing process, with others like Michael Smith, John Souttar and captain Craig Gordon behind for support.

Composure

“I’m delighted for Finlay, he is there on merit. He has trained well and he performed well last season,” said Halliday, who lined up beside young Pollock in central midfield against Cove. “To make his first start, you could see he was full of adrenaline and he showed great composure for someone so young.

“He wasn’t scared to play forward and try the risky pass and he has a bright future. I spoke to him during the game to try and help him. The manager has conveyed a certain message over the last four weeks. It’s important for experienced players to speak to the younger players to make sure we implement it.

“Finlay is young and keen and developing every single day. He will sometimes need help with his positional sense on the pitch but that’s what older players do. He did well but that's just the start for him.”

Only a Cove Rangers post prevented Pollock marking a memorable evening with a goal on 19 minutes. The move illustrated many of the teenager’s talents as he fed Josh Ginnelly, advanced into the opposition penalty area to collect the winger’s low cutback, and then dispatched a shot against the goalframe.

“He almost scored but I wasn’t too happy he never cut it back to me,” laughed Halliday. “No, seriously, he was unlucky. He took a great touch to take it away from the defender and he got off a great strike that unfortunately hit the post. He made a positive impact.

“We have all been there as young players. You can get caught up in the moment, you are eager to impress and you lose your shape. I probably did it as well because it’s been so long since we played in front of fans. It was easy to get carried away. I thought he coped really well, as did all the boys.”

There is more youthful talent emerging, too. Fellow Riccarton prodigies Euan Henderson and Connor Smith played as substitutes on Tuesday, while another teenager was given a senior debut. Midfielder Aidan Denholm, 17, played the last 13 minutes after coming off the bench.

More chances for youngsters

It is part of a deliberate Hearts policy to develop more home-grown lads in the first team. “If you include Craig Gordon we had five academy graduates on the park and they will have a big part to play for us this season,” said Halliday.

“Finlay isn’t the benchmark but the young boys have to look at the opportunity he got, how he trained and how he performed. Players will get chances and the gaffer has said that. They have to take them.”

Halliday marked the occasion with a goal of his own to open the scoring in the 3-0 win over Cove. Having joined Hearts at the end of September last year, he suffered without a pre-season. This time he is feeling significantly fitter.

“I don’t score many these days. I scored in my first Hearts league appearance and I have done it again this year. I was delighted but more importantly it was another win and another clean sheet as well. I think you can see the manager and staff have worked hard on how we want to play and we have implemented that.”

“I feel a massive difference this year. Every player will tell you it’s difficult if you haven’t had a pre-season. You are playing catch-up with the boys who are there. I was eight to ten weeks behind last year and it caught up with me towards the end of the season.

“I’ve had a niggle with my back in the last week or so but it’s not too bad. It’s a base for me to build on. If you are struggling fans do give you a second wind during games as well. It’s been a positive four weeks and a good start to the season in the two games we have played but we have a long way to go to keep getting better.”

If their public are allowed to attend in increasing numbers over the coming weeks, it may well accelerate any improvement. “I love playing in front of fans. They don’t make you pass to maroon any better but they give you an extra ten to 15 per cent adrenaline,” explained Halliday.

“We are four weeks into pre-season so we aren’t 100 per cent match sharp, but when you have fans cheering you on it gives you that extra edge to snap into a tackle or two. It has been a long time and I have said it before, football is never the same without fans, so I am delighted they are back inside the stadium.”

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