How Hibs are leaving no stone unturned to discover the next John McGinn or Scott Allan

Wee McGinn. It was the nickname John McGinn hated as a kid trying to emerge from the St Mirren academy.

By JOEL SKED
Thursday, 1st August 2019, 8:22 am
John McGinn is a fourth quarter kid but is now strutting his stuff in Englands top flight after a fine spell at Hibs. Pic: SNS
John McGinn is a fourth quarter kid but is now strutting his stuff in Englands top flight after a fine spell at Hibs. Pic: SNS

“He was a late physical developer as well as being a late birthday,” Graeme Mathie, Hibs’ head of recruitment and player identification, told the Evening News. “When he got put on in games the opposition used to call him “Wee McGinn”.

“He hated it. He hated this concept of folk thinking they can throw him off the ball and being physically better.”

Knowing what we know now, it is unthinkable that this all-action dynamo was once seen as easy prey in the midfield battle.

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However, as a player born in Scotland in the fourth quarter of the year, he was at a disadvantage as a kid, competing against players who would likely be several months older, born at the start of the year.

He, along with current Hibs midfielder Scott Allan, have developed into fine footballers despite being born in the final quarter of the year and the presence of the Relative Age Effect (RAE).

“It is prevalent across all team sports across the world,” Mathie said. “Whenever your registration year starts (January in Scotland), most kids who enter talent pathways or academies tend to be born early. Very few get in when they are born late in that registration year.

“It’s not a football problem, or a Scottish problem, it’s team sports across the world.”

Hibs are turning over every stone possible to make sure that the next McGinn or Allan do not slip through their grasp. That includes paying particular attention to kids born in October, November and December.

Since 2016 they have hosted the Fourth Quarter Kids event offering kids an opportunity to be assessed by the club. Overseen by academy scouts, players are tested by the club’s sports science team before coaches put on sessions and small-sided games.

“Things like this really help us to identify players a bit differently and that’s fundamental to what we are trying to do,” said Mathie.

“We stand at the same side of the pitches as Hearts, Celtic, Rangers. If everyone is looking for the best player, it is just a fight. We need to be a bit different. These trials have definitely got us a number of players in our academy who are doing well, that no other club is looking at.

“In this country, I don’t think we are big enough numerically to miss out on kids that could potentially have a career in sport because they just happen to be born in the wrong time of the year.”

He added: “It’s not necessarily that kids will be taller and bigger. It’ll be a lot to do with social maturity, physical maturity. It might be emotional maturity and actually just playing the game longer. I think it is something which football really needs to look at.

“That is the interesting thing now you learn with the evidence that suggests very few fourth quarter birthdays get into talent pathways, but by percentage terms far more get through the other end because it is maybe the underdog theory.

“They have got to find new ways to compete because maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe psychologically they are just that wee bit behind.”

The work is aided by Steve Curnyn, head of academy football science and medicine, who Mathie refers to as a “nugget for us”.

He said: “Growth and maturation is really important during puberty and post-puberty, that’s where Steve has done a fantastic job. He had a young player in quite recently and within five minutes he is able to tell the kid that in five months’ time will be the fastest his body will ever grow.

“For us it is trying to take all the information we can and put it in the right context.

“His work is pretty fundamental to what we do and really fundamental to how we make decisions.”

The 2019 edition takes place on Tuesday, 6 August, 3-5pm, at Hibernian Training Centre for players born in October, November and December in 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007. Pre-registration is essential by email to [email protected] For more information visit the club’s website.