Derek McInnes believes the growing number of young players involved in the Aberdeen first team proves the future is bright at Pittodrie.
Nineteen-year-old Lewis Ferguson was once again the late hero for the Dons in Tuesday’s dramatic 3-2 win against Livingston with the introduction of Connor McLennan, also 19, at the interval helping inspire the Dons to victory, having trailed 2-1 at the break.
Gary Mackay-Steven, Mikey Devlin, Scott McKenna and Graeme Shinnie were all been called up by Scotland manager Alex McLeish for the recent Uefa Nations League qualifiers against Albania and Israel but Aberdeen’s work at youth level has been recognised throughout the age groups.
Lewis Ferguson, Bruce Anderson and Connor McLennan were in Scot Gemmill’s under-20 squad for last month’s friendly against Turkey, while Archie Mair, Dean Campbell and Seb Ross were called up by Billy Stark for the under-19 European Championship qualifiers against Wales, San Marino and Sweden.
To complete their run of call-ups, Calvin Ramsay, Lyall Booth, Kevin Hanratty and Tom Ritchie – all Club Academy Scotland Cup winners with the young Dons – were named in Stuart McLaren’s first squad for the Victory Shield. Manager Derek McInnes has not been shy in giving youth its chance this season with Ferguson making several match-winning contributions since his summer move from Hamilton and Anderson and McLennan both making goalscoring contributions.
He said: “During the last international break, we were well represented at all age groups and it’s great to have so many in the under-20s and under-19s. It’s good to be so prominent as it recognises the good work the youth academy are doing.
“Every good club should have a nucleus of young players to provide competition and develop. You’re not going to get everyone to be an established player and many youngsters will come in and out of the team, failing to build on their potential. But the more we can bring through, the better.
“Someone told me a stat that we have the youngest team in the Premiership on average. It may be the reason behind some of the inconsistencies but it shows you can still be competitive.”
Paul Sheerin’s under-20s side reached the final of the Scottish Youth Cup last season and are part of the revamped Reserve League this year. The under-16s beat Hearts in the Club Academy Scotland final at the end of last month at Cove Rangers’ Balmoral Stadium, which also hosts Dons’ reserve games.
Andy Considine, Scott Wright and Danny Rogers have all made first-team appearances having come through the youth setup, while Shinnie was at Dyce Boys Club before moving to Caley Thistle as a teenager. He made his return to Aberdeen in 2015 and was named skipper upon Russell Anderson’s retirement.
McInnes added: “The likes of Scott and Graeme are a great inspiration for everyone at the club, of what can be achieved by playing well for the first team.”