Hibs clinch Euro crown

HIBS under-19 side returned home in triumph today after becoming the first Scottish club to win one of Europe’s most prestigious youth tournaments.

The Easter Road kids recovered from the disappointment of losing their opening game in the 50th Insel Cup in Germany to beat the holders, Swedish outfit Helsingborgs, in the final.

And to cap a glorious weekend for the Hibs youngsters, 16-year-old midfield star Jamie McCluskey was named player-of-the-tournament, a fantastic accolade given the quality of the opposition at the invitation-only competition.

Coach Alistair Stevenson was naturally delighted at his side’s achievement at the expense of clubs such as Sparta Prague, Hamburg, Helsingborgs, Wolfsburg and Wisla Krakau.

He said: "We went to Germany hoping we could win the tournament but not expecting to do so given the quality of the teams taking part.

It is hard to ask young players to raise their game five or six times over a weekend but we just got better and better as the tournament went on and I think we deserved to win the final.

"The fantastic thing was that we had a very young squad in Ilvesheim. Sparta Prague, for instance, had nine under-19 and under-18 internationals in their squad while Helsingborgs didn’t have anyone born later than 1987.

"In contrast we had six players aged 17 and under, while quite a few others qualify as under-18s.

"The likes of Scott Brown, Jonathan Baillie and Alistair Brown were all eligible to play but didn’t travel with us, Alistair being away with Scotland’s under-19 side and the other two injured. And all but a handful of the lads who did make the trip will still be young enough to help us defend the trophy next year.

"I think that it augurs well for the future because this was a great experience for our young lads."

Hibs’ opening game, however, didn’t even hint of the glory which was to come, the Easter Road youngsters losing two goals in the opening 15 minutes to Sparta Prague which proved to be decisive.

But on Saturday they beat Hamburg 2-0 with goals from Steven Fletcher and Kevin McDonald before claiming a 0-0 draw against Mannheim which was enough to secure a semi-final berth.

It came at a price, though, with skipper Steven Notman ruled out of the final two games with damaged ankle ligaments while Jay Shields required stitches in a head wound.

Scotland under-17 striker Fletcher’s goal in the first minute of the second-half of the semi-final against Wisla Krakau was just enough to clinch the victory they needed and a showdown with last year’s winners Helsingborgs.

Stevenson said: "The final was a terrific occasion, we had a piper playing "Scotland the Brave" leading us onto the pitch.

"We even had a couple of Hibs fans at the match, an Edinburgh lad who has lived in Germany for a few years and his wife."

A first-half strike from McCluskey, who became the youngest player to feature in top flight football in Scotland in almost 60 years when he made a fleeting appearance against Kilmarnock in January, gave Hibs the upper-hand with Sean Lynch adding a second after the interval.

Stevenson said: "We were looking pretty comfortable with those two goals but the lads got a bit tired due to their exertions over the weekend and the Swedish side scored late on which made the last couple of minutes a bit hair-raising.

"But we got a terrific reception, there were about 3000 fans at the final and I have to say I think we proved over the course of the weekend that we are a very good side.

"I’m very proud of our young players who can only improve with age and experience."