Hibs coach Grant Murray aims to lift Youth Cup 25 years after winning as Hearts player
Grant Murray has already done it as a player with Capital rivals Hearts, and now the Hibs Under-20s coach can complete a special double by winning the Scottish Youth Cup as a manager, providing the young Hibees can defeat Aberdeen at Hampden this evening.
A penalty shoot-out victory over Celtic at Easter Road earlier this month set up tonight’s showdown against the Dons with Murray’s team also securing the SPFL Development League title last week.
Having experienced the highs of winning the competition in maroon, beating Rangers 3-1 in the 1993 final, Murray wants his young players to create their own memories in green and white.
“I won it in 1992/93 with Hearts, the year after Hibs,” he recalled. “Gary Locke was in that team – there were a few that made it. Paul Ritchie, Allan McManus, Kevin Thomas – Myles Hogarth and Roddy McKenzie were the goalies. Most of them played first-team somewhere.
“It actually would be nice to win it as a manager as well. I was just looking at the names on the trophy and we had a good run in the cup then. The final was played at Ibrox and obviously Rangers and Celtic were strong then so we were kind of underdogs, but we went through there and won it. I’ve said to the lads here, I’ve still got the medal and it’s something to look back on if they were to go on and win it.
“It’s great now to be leading a team into the final. The semi-final against Celtic at Easter Road was massive for us. They grasped that with both hands. Obviously, we won on penalties but it was a great performance on the night and we probably deserved it. The boys were buzzing after that and it’s a great feeling for them just to be in a final and it’s here now upon them.
“It’s great for the staff too. At the end of the day, we’re only here because of where the kids have got themselves. We’ll all look forward to it – myself, Eddie [May], Lee [Makel], Colin [Nish], Alan [Combe] the goalie coach, the physio, whoever goes through. It’s a big occasion for the players, but we’re part of that as well.”
Hibs found themselves in a position to win both competitions last season, but exited the cup at the quarter-final stage after losing to Celtic and then faltered in the league with Ross County going on to become champions.
“We were probably in a similar position last year. It was good in the league and we drew Celtic in the cup as well and probably let ourselves down a wee bit,” Murray admitted. “It’s a very similar squad and it’s maybe their mentality or the character they’ve got – we’ve gone on to win the league and thoroughly deserved it. They have performed well and they’ve managed to wrap that up and that will give them confidence.
“We have played Aberdeen twice this year. They beat us and we beat them last week. It’s about who turns up on the night.”
Ultimately, Murray acknowledges it’s all about getting as many players as possible to a level where they can become part of Neil Lennon’s first-team squad.
Hibs claimed an Under-19 League and Cup double nine years ago, but only David Wotherspoon, now with St Johnstone, and current Partick Thistle full-back Callum Booth went on to become first-team regulars at Easter Road. While trophies at this level will be no guarantee, Murray believes several of his squad have the potential to establish themselves as professionals, with one or two having already impressed for the top team.
“Hopefully these guys make the breakthrough here,” he said. “Some of the development squad are a big part of the first team and have helped out, the likes of Ryan [Porteous], Fraser [Murray] and Oli [Shaw].
“Kevin Dabrowski has sat on the bench, Ben Stirling has been involved, Sean Mackie, it’s great for them to get that taste of it. These are the guys that are there at the moment, whether they’ve got a better chance of making it or not, you want everyone to push. Not everyone is going to come through and play in the first team but these are the guys who have worked hard and attracted the manager’s attention.”
Despite the bigger picture focus on developing players, the will to win a cup final will be as intense as it would be for any level. “Their thoughts this week have turned to the final because they’re all looking forward to it. It’s a big occasion for them going to play at Hampden in front of their families,” said Murray. “It is about development, we’ve always stressed that, getting them training with the first team and into that first-team squad but come tonight it’s about winning the cup, it’s as simple as that.
“Try and tell them it’s about development when they’re walking out at Hampden. It’s about winning that cup, whether it’s in 90 minutes, extra-time or penalties. They’ve got one step to go and Aberdeen are no different from us.”