Star maker Welsh hopes to have the last laugh

FORMER Hibee Brian Welsh today laughed off suggestions that he had made a rod for his own back after steering Livingston Under-19s to the verge of a League and Cup double.

The youth coach leads his side to Celtic Park tonight for a SFA Youth Cup semi-final against Celtic having already wrapped up the league in some style, losing just one game en route.

It may be the third time running the Lions have topped their league, and it certainly is a remarkable record, however, Welsh remains adamant that the real nature of his job is to mould the youngsters into fully-fledged professionals capable of earning a trade as a footballer and, with a little luck, finding the kind of rough diamonds that have worn the Livi jersey in the past such as Graeme Dorrans, Robert Snodgrass and Leigh Griffiths.

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To that end, Welsh today was insisting all the pressure is on Celtic, a team who will be naturally expected to win trophies. And he pointed to the fact that before this season started Livingston had been "ripped apart" and Welsh, manager Gary Bollan and his assistant Scott Robertson, had to start all over again.

Welsh said: "The place was really ripped apart in the summer by the effects of what Mr Massone did. There were only around five or six players who were still registered at the start of the season so we have had to do a lot of rebuilding and a lot of them were affected by what had gone on. Confidence was a key factor.

"But they have been magnificent and done the club proud. My job is not to win the league or cups but to make them better players; winning trophies is an added bonus.

"They are a terrific bunch, they work so hard and are always asking to stay on and do more work, so much so that I have had to reign them in and rest a few. I'll have six or seven under-17s in the squad at Celtic Park because we have been restricted in registering players by the SFA. We can only have 20 players."

Welsh is hoping to add Andrew Halliday to his squad, the teenager being the latest hot name to be courted by bigger clubs. The 19-year-old has made a first-team berth his own this term, is the club's top scorer and has been watched by Hibs, Hearts and the Old Firm. However, Middlesbrough, where former Livi manager Mark Proctor is in charge of the youth set up, have been making the biggest effort to sign him.

And even if Livi don't win tonight, the framework is being put back into place.

Welsh added: "We have brought back scout Jim McArthur who was responsible for finding a lot of the previous Livingston players who have gone on to greater things, and we have more plans to make the club as attractive to youngsters as possible.

"Players have come here in the past because they know they will get a chance to shine and that opportunities do exist for them – we want that to continue."

• THE match tonight is all ticket, on sale from the Celtic ticket office prior to kick-off at 7.00pm. Adults 3, children 1.