DAVE McMILLAN has seen a conveyor belt of talent pass before him over the last two decades. He reckons, though, that even the most skilled player would struggle to make it in the game without a good dose of sheer hard graft.
The Hibs Academy coach has been at the club for just shy of 20 years and, in that time, has seen the likes of Jordon Forster, Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Alex Harris rise through the ranks to make the grade.
Those four, to name but a few, were part of the East of Scotland side which claimed the trophy back in 2011 – coming up against rising Hearts stars such as Kevin McHattie, Callum Paterson, Jason Holt and Brad McKay – and went on to feature in last month’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic.
And McMillan was delighted to see the latest batch of Hibs kids claim a record-breaking ninth victory in the East of Scotland Shield against Hearts on Friday night. They emerged from Tynecastle with a convincing 3-0 win thanks to goals from Lewis Allan, Jordan Sinclair and Dominic Docherty, and, if past sides are anything to go by, this latest crop of youngsters could have a big future ahead of them.
“We have had a lot of boys progress from the Under-17s through to the first team and it’s always great to see that,” said McMillan.
“I know a lot of people say that young boys now are getting their chance because of financial reasons, but I think that is wrong. Maybe the financial climate has helped to give them their chance but these boys are in there on merit.
“You only get to play first-team football if you’re good enough. The guys in the Hibs side right now have shown that.
“It is all about hard work – and most of that hard work comes from the players, it is as simple as that.
“The guys coming through the system know that not all of them will make it. That’s just the way that football is right now. To give themselves the best chance, they have got to have perseverance and be committed, as well as be willing to make a lot of sacrifices.
“They give it their all with lots of training sessions but there’s no real secret to it.”
The Easter Road club had to shell out around £5 million to create their state-of-the-art training centre at East Mains, but are now beginning to reap the benefits. It’s all a far cry from the days that the youth sides had to travel through to the west to train.
Not only do the youngsters now have a dedicated place to train, they also have the luxury of time to hone their skills – something that was sadly lacking before.
McMillan recalled: “I remember that we used to take two minibuses through to Motherwell, to Dalziell Park, and train through there.
“At that time, Motherwell were also using it, so we were rushed in and then rushed out again whereas, we’re doing four sessions a week now and a double on a Friday. It’s a world of difference. We have got time, that is the main thing. Guys like Jordan Sinclair love it.
“He scored our second goal on Friday night from a free-kick and the young guy takes a bag of balls after each session and works on his set-pieces, even if it’s just for five or ten minutes.
“He can take as long as he wants to practise and it’s small things like that that have really benefited us.
“Right through the Academy there is a lot of potential and there are a number of players who look really capable of moving their career up a level. There’s no-one who doesn’t have a chance. We don’t have ‘jersey fillers’.”
McMillan was delighted with the latest win over hearts but insisted that no-one in the Hibs side was making too much of the fact that they had made it nine consecutive wins.
He continued: “It was a great result for us. You’re always apprehensive and nervous before these occasions but I thought that the boys handled it well.
“These games against Hearts mean as much to our boys as they do to the first team when they are playing in Edinburgh derbies. I think that the kids have been celebrating ever since!”
McMillan was keen to play down the significance of their superiority in the competition.
“We think that it’s really important to keep the pressure of off our young players so we tried to play down the nine-in-a-row thing.
“At the end of the day, records are there to be broken and we know that we will lose it one day so we think that it makes sense not to make too much of it.
“We don’t discuss of that, not least because we have new players coming into the side all of the time.
“For most of these kids it was one-in-a-row and that’s the important thing to remember.”