Steady as she goes lads: Skipper Welsh steers Hibs towards final

HIBS' UNDER-19 side has already enjoyed a remarkable season, beaten just once in 21 matches as they've powered to the top of the SPL League and into the semi-finals of the SFA Youth Cup.

But today captain Sean Welsh insisted it would be a travesty if the Easter Road youngsters don't end the season with at least one piece of silverware.

The Hibs kids get the chance to take a further step towards that goal when they travel to the Falkirk Stadium on Sunday for their Cup semi-final clash against the Bairns, the only side to have defeated them so far.

Welsh, however, insisted it won't be a case of seeking revenge as he and his team-mates bid for a Hampden outing against either Rangers or Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the final.

The midfield star said: "It's a big game, probably our biggest of the season and it is going to be a tough test. Falkirk are the only team to have beaten us although we felt we were unlucky on the day.

"It was a scrappy match and we failed to convert our chances but to give them credit, they worked hard and got their goal.

"Obviously, we want to get our own back this time round. But it is not a case of going looking for revenge. If you do that it sparks too much aggression and anger in your game. What we want to do is go there and play as we have done all season, getting the ball down, passing and moving."

The solitary defeat by Falkirk aside, Hibs have certainly done that, reclaiming top spot in the Under-19 league from Rangers before opening up a five-point advantage while, in the Cup, Stenhousemuir, Ross County and Raith Rovers have been swept aside, 15 goals scored and none conceded.

Welsh said: "It's been an incredible season, at any level of football to have lost just one game is unbelievable and if we do not get anything we will be very disappointed. We have five, potentially six, matches remaining and we have to approach everyone of them as if it is a cup final."

As high as the youngsters' hopes might be, Welsh insisted they were taking nothing for granted but used the manner of the recent wins over Rangers and Kilmarnock as evidence of the desire within the side.

He said: "Our lads can't tell when they are beaten, they go until the final whistle believing they can score.

"Our win over Rangers was probably our biggest so far. We played unbelievably well and I think they were a bit shell-shocked when we went three goals up. They threw everything at us, got two goals back and then missed a penalty right at the death after we'd had two men sent off.

"But we worked incredibly hard and, I think, deserved the slice of luck at the end. Then against Kilmarnock last week we were two goals down, got one back with a couple of minutes to go and even then we still believed we could get a winner, which we did."

Camaraderie may be one weapon but another secret, Welsh believes, is the fact the goals have been shared around rather than the side relying on one player to score the vast majority.

Pointing out how even in the Cup the 15 goals scored have been shared among nine players, himself included, he said: "Our defence has to be congratulated for having conceded very few goals but at the other end everyone has chipped in.

"We don't rely on our forwards alone, we want to win so we know we have to score goals and we also have players in the midfield and at the back who have done so."

Capping a memorable season for Welsh and six of his team-mates was the offer of full-time contracts which means they will move up to become part of boss Mixu Paatelainen's first-team squad, news which delighted the youngster.

He said: "I've been a Hibs fan all my life, my whole family support the club. I've lived in Lochend all my life so I've always been around the club.

"My big brother Gary is Hibs daft and like me he was over the moon when I heard I was getting a contract. Seven moving up at t he one time is a massive number but I think the fact we've been rewarded in this way shows we are capable."

During his school days at Leith Academy Welsh saw former pupils Andy McNeil and Darren McCormack tread the same path he is now walking, a route which has become familiar to many other youngsters as they've enjoyed Hibs enviable reputation for producing home-grown talent.

While listing Russell Latapy and Franck Sauzee has his own heroes, Welsh has more recent memories of the likes of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker, Garry O'Connor and Derek Riordan being given an early chance in a green-and-white shirt as have since Lewis Stevenson, Ross Chisholm and Paul Hanlon who, incredibly, could still be part of the all-conquering Under-19 side. Welsh, however, insisted the memory of such players doesn't thrust any added pressure on to today's youngsters. He said: "Rather than that, I think it shows you what can be done.

"I think the fans expect it and it's great for us as they always encourage you. At Hibs you always know you are going to get your chance if you are good enough but it is now down to us as to how much we want it and how hard we are prepared to work for it."

Sunday's match kicks off at 2pm. Admission for adults is 2, children get in free.