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