Young Hibs striker Oli Shaw keeps grounded despite the plaudits

Oli Shaw fires home in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden
Oli Shaw fires home in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden
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It’s a moment Oli Shaw will never forget, his first goal for Hibs coming in their Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden.

Ultimately, of course, the day ended in disappointment for the Easter Road outfit, beaten by Brendan Rodger’s side as they clocked up yet another game in their seemingly never-ending unbeaten run.

But the assured manner in which the teenage Shaw offered Neil Lennon’s players a glimmer of hope as he calmly slotted the ball past Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon with only his second touch of the ball confirmed what those who regularly watch the Capital club’s development squad had been claiming, that in the youngster Hibs have a top striker in the making.

It has, though, proved to be something of a double-edged sword for Shaw, Lennon’s surprise decision to throw him on in such a match and to leave Simon Murray sitting on the bench, having, apparently, had the desired effect, serving as something of a jolt to Hibs’ top scorer who ended a barren spell in front of goal to find the net in each of his team’s last three matches, taking his tally for the season to 13 and helping hoist them into third place in the Premiership.

As far as Shaw is concerned, though, there’s no reason to feel hard done by, the very fact Lennon was prepared to turn to him at that time further indication his gaffer has every faith in those coming through the club’s academy, one of eight accorded “Elite” status this week under the SFA’s new “Project Brave” youth system.

Although still only 19, Shaw was just too old to add to his Scotland Under-19 caps as Easter Road team-mates Ryan Porteous and Fraser Murray helped the young Scots qualify from a group containing Luxembourg, Armenia and the Czech Republic for the elite round of the European Championships over the course of the past few days.

Like Shaw the pair have been regular members of Lennon’s matchday squad, particularly so leading up to the international break when the Hibs boss found his options severely limited by an ever-growing casualty list which, thankfully, has eased somewhat as they prepare to resume league action against St Johnstone tomorrow hoping to clock up a fifth successive victory.

Pointing to how Lennon’s faith in youth was again underlined as Porteous made a half-time appearance in what proved to be a 2-1 win over Dundee last time out, Shaw said: “I think it’s about being patient.

“I am one of the younger players in the squad, it’s about biding my time and awaiting that opportunity which I am sure will come as the gaffer is not frightened to give young players their chance. Ryan coming on in the last couple of matches when it’s been tight has shown that.

“I got my chance at Hampden and scored a goal but Simon has been given his and taken it as well.”

The unveiling of what the SFA has categorised “Elite” academies will, unquestionably, reopen the argument as to the merits of such systems, some seeing today’s young players as being “molly-coddled,” pampered with the best of what the game has to offer in stark contrast to days gone by when youngsters were seen to succeed despite rather than because of the often basic facilities at their disposal.

The differing routes taken by Shaw and 25-year-old Murray to Hibs’ first team probably encapsulates that debate, the former seven years with the Easter Road club despite his still tender years while his older team-mate came up through the Juniors to combine working as a plumber with part-time football at Arbroath before winning his chance at Dundee United.

Shaw, however, argues that “elite” is nothing more than a word, adamant the goal of every player, whatever their path they have followed, is simply to enjoy playing football.

“To be honest, Simon has not really mentioned it,” he said, “He’s here to play football and just focuses on the job here. Obviously there’s different ways to get to the top, Simon has that off-field experience but he’s also worked hard to get where he is.”

So too, insisted Shaw, has he, Porteous, Fraser Murray and the other aspiring youngsters who currently sit atop of the SPFL Development League.

He said: “The coaches here keep you grounded, telling you when you do things well and not so well. It’s about taking things on board. We are just boys wanting to play football, hopefully taking the opportunity to play at a high level and to do it to a good standard.

“I’ve been here five or six years, I’ve come through from the Under-15s, all the way up. I enjoy playing here and hopefully I’ll get that chance to play regular first-team football.”

So far Shaw has scored nine goals this season for the Under-20 side to go with the 20-odd from last season, including a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against the McDiarmid Park outfit’s kids last month.

He said: “They had a young team out that day, but it was still great to get a hat-trick. Tomorrow, though, will be a different story. However, we are going into it high on confidence.

“I think the international break came at just the right time for us, we’d had a lot of games and there were a few niggles here and there. We’ve had time to recover and everyone has been flying in training this week so hopefully we can keep the momentum we’ve been building.”

Shaw’s determination to keep his feet on the ground remains despite Lennon having made an unlikely comparison between him and Harry Kane in that, like the Spurs and England striker, he appears to find goals hard to come by at the start of a season but then seems unable to stop scoring.

“I didn’t score in the first couple of games,” he admitted, “But I’ve got a few since. That’s part of being a striker, sometimes it falls for you, sometimes it doesn’t.

“It’s nice to be bracketed in that category but I am me. I’ll continue to stay level-headed and grounded, to concentrate on what I am doing which is working hard.”

Shaw might have expected to have been slaughtered by his team-mates following Lennon’s comments but he revealed it’s hardly been mentioned.

Even so, as tenuous as the link may appear to be at the moment, he is determined to emulate Kane who, at the age of 24 has 100 league goals in just 179 games to his name. The Hibs kid said: “You see him at the top of his game scoring week in, week out. That’s what I am aiming to do.”