Under-21 route to top is '˜false' says Hibs boss Neil Lennon

Hibernian yesterday welcomed back star striker Jason Cummings fit and healthy from a lengthy spell of duty with Scotland Under-21s, but manager Neil Lennon cited more fundamental concerns when he questioned the merits of countries playing such age-grade matches.

Jason Cummings in action for Scotland Under-21s. Picture: SNS.
Jason Cummings in action for Scotland Under-21s. Picture: SNS.

Cummings started in the young Scots’ 1-0 defeat by Macedonia at Tynecastle last Friday night and was a second-half substitute as they succumbed to a heavy 4-0 loss to Ukraine in Kiev on Tuesday, a result which sparked Ricky Sbragia’s departure from his role as team manager.

It has been a poor European Championship qualifying campaign for the international “colts” but there has been some perceived success in the promotion of the likes of Hearts pair Jack Hamilton and Callum Paterson, and Hibs’ John McGinn to Gordon Strachan’s full squad.

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Scores of others through the years have cut their international teeth in the under-21s before moving upwards.

However, Lennon is of the firm opinion that under-21 football does not prepare players for the realities of the full international team and believes those capable of 
stepping up would do so 

“I’ve never been a big lover of the under-21s, that’s just my own opinion on it,” he offered. “I think it’s a bit false and I’m not just referring to Scotland, I’m referring to under-21 internationals in general. If a player is going to come through, he is going to come through anyway, regardless of whether he is playing under-21 football or youth level.

“People say it is a good experience to go out of the country, blah, blah, blah. But I don’t really see the benefit of it in the long run.

“The step up is massive from under-21 to full international football. It’s a chasm, a real chasm. So, I don’t get really excited about it to tell you the truth. Other people see if differently, they feel there is a benefit to it, but I don’t really see it.

“People might shoot me down for saying this but it’s my own opinion on what I have seen in my time either playing or managing. You don’t really know what the player is going to do before he gets in [to the full team].”

Though his side had an Irn-Bru Cup tie to play against Turriff United, Lennon used the international break to give a number of his more hard-pressed players some time off last weekend. One notable beneficiary was Lewis Stevenson, who was the subject of a testimonial dinner, complete with a performance by The Proclaimers, on Saturday to celebrate his decade of service to Hibs.

With 850 in attendance, the event brought Lennon up close and personal with plenty of diehard Hibees.

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“Lewis’s dinner was good,” he added. “There was a hell of a turnout, everyone was in good form – obviously the fans think very highly of him and for someone in the modern day to spend ten years at a club it is very rare.

“I think the timing of it was perfect for Lewis off the back of winning the cup. I get the impression even if Hibs had won the Champions League it wouldn’t have meant the same as winning the Scottish Cup for some supporters. It seems to have meant the world to them.

“What struck me about it was just the love of the club. They really love their club and there is a real feelgood factor about the place. They made me feel very welcome and the atmosphere was fantastic. Long may it continue.”

Meanwhile, Hibs have decided against offering Poland internationalist Filip Modelski a contract.

The right-back was on trial with the club and played for the under-20s in Tuesday’s meeting with Motherwell, but has not done enough to win a deal as Lennon seeks back-up and competition for skipper David Gray

Lennon explained: “We’re not taking that option on. We have had a good look at him and he’s not for us.”