James McDonaugh believes having a team competing in this season’s East of Scotland League will help put his Easter Road kids on the fast-track to success, writes DAVID HARDIE.
The SPFL club have been warmly welcomed by the East Seniors, an application to join their ranks unanimously approved, meaning they’ll play in the First Division against the likes of Leith Athletic, Berwick Rangers reserves, Easthouses Lily, Peebles Rovers, Ormiston, and Kelso United, a prospect which excites the Hibs head of youth coaching.
Predicting the new set-up will provide “plenty of games” to cater for an under-20 squad which has had its numbers increased to 20 for the coming season, McDonaugh said: “The first team will play their games and the under-20s will make up two teams, playing SPFL games on a Tuesday and the East of Scotland on a Saturday.
“This coming season overage players can play in the under-20s which, when you consider Alex Harris, Danny Handling, Sammy Stanton and Bradley Donaldson who have stepped up to the first-team squad, are still eligible at that level, might have meant some of the youngsters not getting a game. Now if they aren’t playing on a Tuesday, they’ll get a game on the Saturday which is fantastic for them. There will be plenty of games and that’s what you want as a player, you don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines for weeks waiting for your chance.”
The new set-up will see some Hibs kids as young as 17 pitched in against men but McDonaugh insisted he had no worries on that front. He said: “The first thing every manager who has come to the club has said to me in relation to younger players is ‘we need to see them against men,’ so we are exposing them to that.
“It might be an eye-opener for one or two of them but you have to remember players all over Europe are making their debuts at 16 and 17 so you hope they’ll be able to handle it. We hope the East of Scotland League will help aid the players’ development so they can reach their potential quicker.”
East of Scotland clubs have, of course, provided opposition for Hibs on numerous occasions, predominantly in pre-season, but McDonaugh expects there to be an added edge when they now face each other in competitive action. He said: “I’d imagine others will try that bit harder because it is Hibs.”