Not since Jason Cummings emerged onto the scene four years ago has a Hibs teenager generated the level of hype currently surrounding Oli Shaw.
The 19-year-old striker may only have one appearance for the Easter Road first team under his belt – a 15-minute cameo in a League Cup win over Montrose almost two years ago – but already there is widespread excitement among supporters about what he may bring to the party when he is eventually unleashed in the Premiership next season.
Hibs manager Neil Lennon has already spoken in glowing terms about a player who has scored 29 goals this season – including three hat-tricks – for the development team amid a period in which he has also been representing Scotland Under-19s and Stenhousemuir. In what has become a season-long loan with the Warriors, the free-scoring youngster has been adding to his game by playing against senior players as opposed to fellow colts. Shaw has effectively thanked the Ochilview side for their education-enhancing game time by significantly easing their relegation fears. His three goals in their last two League One games secured 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Peterhead and Queen’s Park and lifted them off the bottom of the table going into their season-ending match at home to Brechin City this Saturday. Brown Ferguson, the Stenhousemuir manager, has been encouraged by the progress of Shaw, who has scored six goals in total for his side from 16 starts and eight sub appearances.
“He’s got the ability – no two ways about it,” Ferguson told the Evening News. “You could see that from the first training session he had with us. He’s got a good size about him – I think he’s about 6ft 2ins – his movement’s good, he’s got good pace and he’s got a very good touch. He can finish, and I don’t just mean a poacher’s finish. He’s got the ability to go and do something spectacular. He’s got all the attributes.
“You’re not regarded highly at Hibs or involved with Scotland Under-19s if you’re not a good footballer. I’m not surprised he’s scored so many goals in the Development League because he’s got a clinical edge to him. And, over the last few months, I’ve really noticed the other side of his game starting to develop, in terms of body-to-body contact with centre-backs. Hopefully, playing against seasoned centre-backs over the past season has given him the experience that will benefit him going forward. Certainly over the last few weeks he’s been able to combine both elements of his game and he’s been very effective for us. He’s definitely improved since he first came to us last summer. Like any younger player coming out on loan, they find that league football is completely different to under-20s football. It’s much more physical and direct, with a lot more contact with opponents and teams trying to turn you a lot more, so that’s another element that young boys like Oli have to get used to when they come out on loan. In addition to that, you’re generally coming up against players who know how to do it. In the under-20s football, they’re good footballers who like to get on the ball and move it about but the other side of the game is something they don’t experience too often. At the start of the season, he was a little bit naive to it but as the season has gone on, he’s managed to adapt to it well.”
Since Stenny signed Shaw last August, they have had to share him with Hibs and Scotland. Assuming the Warriors stay above bottom-of-the-table Peterhead, they will have exclusive rights to him as they fight for survival in the end-of-season play-offs. Ferguson is hopeful that this scenario comes to fruition and that the burgeoning young striker can sign off from his loan spell on a high note.
“Speaking to him early on, he was clearly motivated and wanted to come in and perform well,” said Ferguson. “We’ve certainly benefited from having him. It would have been nice to have had him for more of the season but he’s missed quite a few games from being recalled for Scotland Under-19s or to play for Hibs Under-20s, and then when he’s come back someone else might have done well and taken his place or whatever. He’s missed about 15 games for us this season but, although it’s been a bit stop-start, I’d like to think he’s improved with us.
“Six goals in 16 starts is a reasonable return and it would probably would have been a bit more if he had been around for more of our games. He’s performing well and enjoying his football, and he’s become a big player for us. Most weeks he’s been playing for Hibs during the week and then us at the weekend, so now that their season is finished, hopefully he’ll have a few weeks of just focusing on us. If we can get to the play-offs, that will be a good stage for him, with plenty people watching.”
Shaw has spent his time at Stenhousemuir learning from Colin McMenamin, a man at the opposite end of his career. “Colin has been our main striker in terms of playing the most games and you won’t learn from anybody better than him in terms of professionalism,” said Ferguson. “He’s 36 and looks after himself – I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s always having a word in Oli’s ear about maintaining standards and making sure he’s doing the right things. The way he talks players through games and supports them, working alongside Colin can only have benefited Oli.”
Lennon recently described Shaw as “gangly”. Ferguson believes that he can grow into a complete centre-forward once he fills out physically. “Playing up in a two certainly helps him in terms of being able to run off another striker but, as he continues to learn and grow, I could certainly see him playing up on his own,” he said. “For a lad of his height, with a frame that he’s going to grow into, he’s going to be a strong lad. He’s also quick, so when he learns the other side of game, you’ve almost got a complete No.9 there – someone who can break in behind, someone who can link the play, someone you can play direct to.”
Ferguson believes Shaw possesses the strength of character to make the step up into Hibs’ first team and hold his own. “Hibs are a big club moving back into the Premiership but, from what I’ve seen of him, Oli’s definitely got the temperament and the ability for it,” he said. “In terms of the other side of it, in terms of a winning mentality and things like that, we’ve exposed him to what I’d call a real football environment, where everything that happens in games matters to people, and hopefully he’s all the better for that. I hope he gets a chance at Hibs and, if he does, and if he gets a bit of time, I’m pretty sure he’ll go in there and do well.
“He’s very calm and composed. He isn’t shy when it comes to talking to myself or the other players but he’s a very mannerable, likeable lad. He’s a professional lad and he strikes me as the type who will want to do the right things away from the pitch. Hibs have got a player there and with the opportunity next season, a little bit of time and good fortune, I’m pretty sure he can go on and do well for them.”