RAMS­DENS CUP Mid­fielder has dual part in bring­ing through young play­ers, writes Ste­wart Fisher

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Football -

ALEX NEIL could have car­ried on play­ing in the Cly­des­dale Bank Premier League or moved to Eng­land af­ter Hamil­ton Aca­dem­i­cal were rel­e­gated just un­der a year ago.

He could be earn­ing more money, and test­ing him­self against a higher stan­dard. But when it comes to job sat­is­fac­tion, it would be hard to match what his role at Hamil­ton Aca­dem­i­cal has to of­fer.

Now in his eighth sea­son at New Dou­glas Park, and his sixth as club cap­tain, the 30-year-old not only coaches Ac­cies’ Un­der-17 side, this term he has also men­tored some of them as they have taken their first fal­ter­ing steps into the first team.

The Hamil­ton squad for the Rams­dens Cup final against Falkirk at Al­mond­vale to­mor­row af­ter­noon will con­tain a cou­ple of 17-year-olds, Andy Ryan and Stephen Hen­drie; the some­what more sea­soned 20-year-olds Lee Kil­day, Jor­dan Kirk­patrick and Grant Gille­spie; and a cou­ple of cal­low loan sign­ings Greig Spence, 19, from Celtic, and Jon Mcshane, 20, from St Mir­ren.

Hav­ing played a sim­i­lar sup­port­ing role in the de­vel­op­ment of James Mccarthy – who made it into Billy Reid’s first team at the age of just 15 – and the Scot­land in­ter­na­tional James Mcarthur, Neil also sees po­ten­tial in this cur­rent crop.

The mid­fielder said: “I could have stayed in the SPL had I wanted and there were a cou­ple of other op­tions but Hamil­ton are my club and I have never wanted to leave. I have not re­gret­ted it.

“I love help­ing with the coach­ing of the likes of Andy and Stephen, and en­joy pass­ing on my ex­pe­ri­ence to them. When you play along­side them it is funny how much you see

Alex Neil: ‘Hamil­ton are my club and I have never wanted to leave.’ them de­velop in such a short space of time. At the start of the sea­son, Andy prob­a­bly wasn’t ready, but over a cou­ple of months he did great in the re­serves and then was given a chance in the first team.

“He came on and scored a 30-yarder in his first game and has kicked on from there. It was the same when James Mccarthy, James Mcarthur and Brian Eas­ton came into the team. In their first sea­son, we didn’t have a good year, but it gave them the ex­pe­ri­ence and we pushed on. I am hop­ing the same will hap­pen with this group.”

For Neil, vic­tory to­mor­row would help make up for a 2-1 final de­feat by St Mir­ren in this com­pe­ti­tion in Novem­ber 2005 at Air­drie’s Ex­cel­sior Sta­dium.

It would also set the seal on Ac­cies’ im­prove­ment over the sea­son af­ter a dif­fi­cult start to life in the first di­vi­sion. Neil said: “It would be the high­light of the sea­son if we won.

“At one stage we were 15 points be­hind Falkirk and Dundee in the league but, if we can lift a cup and fin­ish in the top three, then we will have turned a rea­son­able to av­er­age sea­son into a not bad one.”

It has been a pretty de­cent sea­son for Falkirk, too. An­other youth­ful side, they have reached this final, made it to the semi-fi­nals of the Scot­tish Com­mu­ni­ties League Cup, where they per­formed ad­mirably in de­feat to Celtic, and kept pace with Ross County much of the way in the ti­tle race.

Craig Sib­bald, 16, has made more than 20 starts in all com­pe­ti­tions this term, even though he only left school last sum­mer. “I am re­ally ex­cited about the final be­cause it is my first,” he said.

“I never imag­ined I would be in a final at the age of 16 but I am glad the gaffer has given me my chance. We have a lot of young play­ers but we have done well in the cup com­pe­ti­tions. If we win, then hope­fully clubs will start re­al­is­ing that maybe young play­ers are the way for­ward.”

Picture: SNS

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