Welcoming the green light the Scottish Government this week gave lower league sides to return to training, in anticipation of an imminent return to competitive action, the Hibees boss said that players in that bracket had already been starved of enough of their development potential.
While the Premiership and a shortened Championship campaign have been permitted to play out against a backdrop of tough and expensive testing regulations, all football below that elite level has been suspended since January 11, leaving several Hibs players, who had been sent out on loan spells at League One, League Two and Lowland League clubs kicking their heels.
“It has been a far from ideal season in terms of the way teams have been able to operate,” said the Easter Road gaffer.
“We can’t complain too much because we have been able to continue to do what we do. But, for some of the younger players who have been out on loan, it has been a difficult time.
“We didn’t bring them back into our bubble due to the problems that might have posed. So, in effect, they have been left in a little bit of limbo.
“We have had to concentrate on the ones we have got in the building.”
Subjected to the same lockdown restrictions as everyone else back in March last year until the start of the present campaign, the latest shutdown has been testing for several players looking to gather first team experience in the lower realms.
As part of the Leith club’s fledgling partnership with Stenhousemuir, development squad members Callum Yeats and Scotland U17 midfielder Jayden Fairley had been loaned out to the League Two side, while another midfielder Josh Campbell joined their league rivals Edinburgh City for the duration of the campaign. All three have been without matchday action for nearly two months.
And, that period of inactivity will stretch further for young striker Connor Young, on loan at Civil Service Strollers, and Ryan Shanley, who is at Kelty Hearts, with Lowland League sides still unsure when they will be given the go-ahead to resume training and playing.
“Many of them, who were looking to kick on this season and progress, will have missed the best part of 12 months. It has been hard for them and for all the players who were due to be coming in full time for the first time in their lives because that really hasn’t happened for them.
“They have had to adapt and come to terms with missing out on so much. Hopefully it won’t affect too many of them long term and as everyone is going through the same things then there will be the opportunity for them to catch up.”
Testing protocols and social distancing rules have made the organising of friendlies just as problematic for the remaining development squad members.
“But being denied something they love will hopefully have helped reinvigorate them. Undoubtedly, it has been a test of character but hopefully it won’t be long before they can all get back to normal.”