Murray Aiken speaks on 'unbelievable' Hibs debut and chasing league and European dream with Under-18s
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The 17-year-old made his first-team debut at Easter Road and marked veteran midfielder Liam Craig out of the game for the final 15 minutes – just hours before picking up the Hibs Academy Player of the Year prize at the club’s end-of-season awards bash.
But he takes it all in his stride, even if he nerves started jangling when interim boss David Gray gave him the nod with 25 minutes remaining.
"It was an unbelievable feeling. I was a wee bit nervous at first but once I got going, it was some moment,” Aiken told the Evening News.
"Once we were scoring goals for fun it seemed like there was more of a chance of me getting on, but when I got the call my heart was in my mouth a little bit."
Aiken was proud to make his first-team debut alongside his under-18 team-mates Jacob Blaney, Robbie Hamilton, and Oscar MacIntyre. The quartet are regular starters in the young team that has been earning plaudits all season.
"The Under-18s have been playing well all season and it’s good that we were rewarded with a few first-team debuts,” he added.
Gray has been to many of the youth team’s matches, while Jack Ross and Shaun Maloney also took in games, and most of the youngsters have been called up to train with the first-team squad this term.
Juggling a hectic schedule in the CAS Elite Under-18 League as well as training and trying to catch the eye for a first-team nod hasn’t been straightforward but Aiken insists the ball is in the youth teamers’ court: play well, train hard, and take your chance.
“It’s been a wee bit hard but we've been doing well as a team week in, week out so the gaffer’s seen that and he's rewarded us. We get to train with the first team sometimes as well, and you've just got to do your best when you get that chance, whatever you’re asked to do."
An industrious midfielder, he has also filled in at centre-back on occasion for Gareth Evans’ under-18 side and came on at right-wingback on Sunday.
"If I’m asked to play any position I’ll go and do it to the best of my ability. I’ve played right-wingback a couple of times, so I felt comfortable enough.”
With the current state of play at Easter Road – no manager, a summer of change on and off the park – there have been no messages or challenges communicated to the youngsters looking to get more first-team minutes next season, but Aiken hopes continued hard work and the carrot of European football if they win the league can make the difference. They can take a step closer to the title this afternoon when they face Motherwell at HTC.
"Nothing’s been said, we just have to keep our heads down and hopefully get the under-18 title wrapped up. We need to try hard during pre-season, keep fit, and hopefully more chances will come our way,” he said.
“Playing in Europe would be really exciting for us, so hopefully we can get that secured in the next couple of weeks, and that will be something we can look forward to next season.”