Hibs boss Neil Lennon has called teenager Ben Stirling into his squad training in Portugal this week after the midfielder’s loan deal with League Two outfit Cowdenbeath was brought to an early end.
Stirling has caught Lennon’s eye with his performances as part of the side which has taken the Edinburgh club to the top of the SPFL Development League and has been training with the first-team squad at East Mains.
But the cancellation of his season-long loan with the Blue Brazil freed him up to travel to the Algarve, where Lennon’s players will wrap up some warm weather training with a game against Dutch Eredivise side Willem II on Friday.
Today George Craig, Hibs’ head of football operations, hailed the inclusion of Stirling as both a reward for the 19-year-old and encouragement for other youngsters, with fellow kids Oli Shaw, Ryan Porteous, Fraser Murray and Kevin Dabrowski heading for the sun this week.
Craig said: “Ben has been doing really well for the development squad, caught the manager’s eye and has been training with the first team along with a couple of others – that’s where you have to shine and hold your own.
“The likes of Oli, Ryan and Porteous are, in particular, the standard-bearers for young players coming through. You don’t get to the top of the development league and not have good players. Ben travelling with the squad is not only reward for him but encouragement for others to see opportunities will be there. Neil has proved he will pick you.”
Craig admitted Stirling, who had spent part of last season on loan at Berwick Rangers, hadn’t enjoyed the best of times at Central Park but insisted there were mitigating circumstances. He said: “Cowdenbeth are finding it difficult at this moment and there’s been a change of manager.
“Things don’t always work out, but terminating Ben’s loan made him available.”
Craig paid tribute to the work being done by former Hibs player Eddie May, now the club’s head of academy coaching, predicting the emergence of Shaw, Porteous and Murray, all of whom Lennon expects to become first team regulars over the course of the next 18 months.
He said: “We are starting to see the benefits of the work Eddie has been doing and hopefully that is going to increase considerably with young players coming through.”