Eight Hearts youth players, a record in recent times, have signed professional contracts with the club.
The Academy’s brightest young talents will continue their football education at Riccarton in a full-time environment after impressing during their development with the U17s.
Euan Henderson, Dean Ritchie, Jay Sandison, Anthony McDonald, Connor Smith and Christopher Hamilton have all signed pro contracts, with Harry Cochrane and Marc Leonard also committing to signing, and will start next season with the U20s. Leonard and Smith’s full-time contracts will begin upon them turning 16 in December and February respectively.
The impressive number making the transition is a sign of the Academy’s strength after years of rebuilding work following the issues the club faced during a difficult period, and U20s coach Jon Daly believes much credit should go to those involved.
“I’m obviously delighted to get these players in on pro contracts,” he said. “They’re good players and to get eight through from one year, with more to come, and into the U20s is a fantastic achievement for all involved at the Academy.
“It’s a big number and it’s quite rare to see so many from the same group come through. I think it shows the work done by the club over the past few years.
“Before I arrived here there was a lot of work done in the background to develop the Academy and there was a lot of hope that a scenario like this would happen.
“A lot of credit has to go to the Academy staff, Roger Arnott, Craig Levein and all the coaches that have worked with the boys along the way.”
Many of these young stars have already tasted Development League football thanks to a long-term plan put in place by the football department, and Jon insists the hard work starts now.
“The plan was to involve some of these guys with the U20s as quickly as possible,” he said. “We knew they were good enough players. Physically there’s a bit to go but technically we knew they could play at this level. That’s why they got game-time at u20s level, because they’re good enough players.
“We wanted to bed them in and get them playing as much U20s football as we saw fit, without hampering their development. We didn’t want to overexpose them, so some have played more than others. Hopefully that will stand them in good stead going forward and assist with their development.
“For me, that’s the easy part. The hard work starts now and it’s trying to get as many of these guys through to the first-team as we possibly can. We have to help them along the way as much as we can.
“Myself, Andy Kirk, Liam Fox, we have to all help them and push them and make sure they develop into the players we think they can become.
“It’s now that the players’ work really begins. The coaches in the Academy have done their part, they’ve got them to this stage where the boys have got full-time contracts, it’s up to myself, and more so the players, to push them and not let them rest on their laurels.
“They can’t think that’s the job done because it isn’t. It’s the first step on the ladder and it’s now about pushing on and developing the talent and ability that we know they have. They have to show enough to the head coach to prove that they are going to be first-team players.”