Hibs defender Ryan Porteous is relishing test at Toulon Tournament
Ryan Porteous is heading for the sun next week, but rather than enjoying a golfing holiday in Cyprus with his father Tom, the Hibs kid will be in the south of France taking part in the prestigious Toulon Tournament.
Skipper of Scotland’s Under-19 side, the Easter Road defender admitted he was surprised to get the call to join Scot Gemmill’s Under-21 squad which will face Togo, France and South Korea.
As he flies out to Marseille on Wednesday, he’ll no doubt reflect on what has been a memorable 12 months for both club and country.
Having spent an impressive season on loan at Edinburgh City, many expected the teenager to be farmed out again, with Dumbarton boss Steve Aitken seemingly sure he’d be joining his Championship side.
Hibs head coach Neil Lennon, however, had other ideas and although he didn’t play as much first-team football as he might have hoped, Porteous still managed to cram in more than a few special moments, captaining the Edinburgh club’s development squad to league and cup glory, a man-of-the-match performance as he started his first Premiership match against Rangers at Ibrox and a first top-flight goal at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park.
“If I had gone out on loan again I’m sure it would have been a good experience,” he said. “But not as good as training with the first team, being with them in the hotel before games and watching them play and getting involved in games myself.
“I certainly feel I could have played more first-team football, but when you are trying to break through and have Efe Ambrose, Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon ahead of you, it’s obviously going to be difficult.
“It’s a case of trying to be patient and hoping to get as many opportunities as possible.”
The early stages of the Betfred Cup afforded Porteous a string of starts, but thereafter he had to contend with watching from the bench, enjoying a few cameo appearances before, with both McGregor and Hanlon out injured, Lennon pitched him in at Ibrox at the centre of a makeshift defence which saw Ambrose on one side and Lewis Stevenson on the other.
Although he declared he’d treated the experience as “any other development game”, Porteous now confesses: “It probably didn’t sink in at the time, but when you look back it does feel a bit surreal.
“It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was easier with the experience of Efe and Lewy alongside you and Ofir Marciano behind us, while the gaffer had told me to go out and just play to the best of my ability.”
Although Hibs won for a second time at Ibrox, Porteous did learn an important lesson, having gifted Rangers a free-kick which allowed Sean Goss to cancel out John McGinn’s opener.
He said: “I tried to play cool and bring the ball down on my chest when I should just have headed it 20 or 30 yards up the pitch. Luckily Scott Allan went on a run, beating four or five of them and won us a penalty a few minutes later.
“The funny thing was a few weeks later at Rugby Park I found myself in the same situation so I headed the ball as far as I could and when I looked round there was [assistant manager] Garry Parker slapping his chest, telling me I should have brought it down.”
While Porteous, Oli Shaw and Fraser Murray all found themselves part of Lennon’s plans, the three youngsters also played their part in ensuring Hibs took the SPFL Development League title before going on to lift the SFA Youth Cup by beating Aberdeen in the final at Hampden.
Porteous said: “We all felt we should have won the league the year before, but we were a bit sloppy here and there. But we went out with the intention of wining every single game and although we didn’t start brilliantly we were top for the majority of the season.”
A penalty shoot-out win over Celtic took Grant Murray’s side into the Youth Cup final, Porteous scoring their second goal as they came back from going behind to win 3-1, his joy at putting Hibs ahead ending with a somewhat red face as his celebrations went wrong.
Attempting a “knee slide”, he landed flat on his face, much to the amusement of his team-mates. “I must have hit a dodgy bit of grass,” he claimed, “But in future I’ll leave that sort of thing to the strikers who know what they are doing.”
Now Porteous is looking forward to another chapter in his football education, all 11 of his Under-19 caps over the past year having come against European opposition.
He said: “It will be entirely new to play the likes of Togo and South Korea and see what style of football they play, while France will be tough, they always are. I’ve played a couple of friendlies against them and it’s a bit scary to think the likes of Kylian Mpabbe is still young enough to play at this level.”