Hibs and Hearts Under-19s meet for the third time on Saturday – their last chance to lay claim to being the best in the Capital.
The teams go into the match boasting a win apiece, Hearts taking all three points in the league while Hibs triumphed with an extra-time winner from Ross Caldwell to knock their arch-rivals out of the SFA Youth Cup. Another victory for the Jambos at East Mains would keep their slim hopes of claiming the SPL Under-19 title alive, Darren Murphy’s side going into their final game of the season a point behind reigning champions Celtic who have three matches still to play.
Hibs can help secure third place with a win but regardless of the outcome, the Easter Road club’s head of academy coaching James McDonaugh reckons Edinburgh can be proud of both teams.
“It’s a derby and of course both sets of players want to win but I think they’ve been a credit to the city of Edinburgh at youth level. Hearts have gone a bit closer than us and still have an outside chance of winning the title but to have both teams finishing in the top three would be a great achievement.”
Despite the rivalry, McDonaugh believes both he and Hearts coach Darren Murray can appreciate each other’s efforts in nurturing what they hope will be the stars of the future with both clubs seeing youngsters begin to make the breakthrough this season.
He said: “I was delighted for Jason Holt, scoring against St Johnstone on his first start was a great achievement. There’s always a bit of banter but I think both Darren and I can rise above it all as we recognise the similar work that is being put in at both clubs. Hibs and Hearts have been renowned for producing young players. They’ve always come through, it’s just a case of how many.”
The challenge for McDonaugh, Murray and other youth coaches is, of course, seeing the youngsters make the step from Under-19 football to the first team with evidence at both Hibs and Hearts that strides are being made in that respect.
Players from both have been put out on loan as part of their learning curve, Hibs’ Danny Handling scoring twice on his debut for Berwick Rangers where his team-mate Jordon Forster is also playing at present. And, McDonaugh insisted, he’d have sanctioned their moves even if Hibs had been in the chase for the Under-19 title. “It’s a case of doing what’s best for the player.
“Danny and Jordon could have stayed and had another couple of games – we play Celtic in our last one after Hearts – but instead they’ll be getting five, six or more games in the Third Division. Hopefully that proves to be the right decision.”
Saturday’s match at East Mains kicks off at 11am. Admission is free.