Ryan Esson is calling for Caley Thistle’s young guns to be given time to shine as the class of 2021 reach for the stars in the Championship.
The first-team coach, who alongside Barry Wilson assists new head coach Billy Dodds, is more than satisfied with youngsters who have been grasping their chance in the opening two pre-season outings.
As a key under-18 guide, Esson has coached many of these lads as they have worked their way up the ladder and they’ve now got professional deals in their hands.
Ethan Cairns got off to a scoring start in a 5-0 win at Clach last week, while five teenagers started in the weekend’s 1-0 win at Forres Mechanics.
Robbie Thompson, Harry Hennem, Ally Riddle, Lewis Hyde, and Harry Nicolson, along with Cairns, have been involved in the first two games.
Tuesday’s pre-season trip to face champions Brora Rangers was called off due to a Covid incident at Inverness.
Low scores against Highland League sides is no sweat
Esson explained how facing men in the Highland League is a sharp learning curve for the talented teens and they must not be rushed in a quest for results, especially in pre-season.
He said: “It has all been positive. The boys are looking sharp. They have come back in good shape and their tests are good.
“We’ve featured a mixture of young and old in the first two games. Although it was 1-0 at Forres on Saturday, the manager was really impressed with the performance, especially the younger ones.
“People don’t realise how big a step it is for the young players. The transition from playing in the 18s to play against experienced, and I mean experienced, Highland League players is not easy.
“I have played a number of those Forres players. They are clever and know the way football is played. Forres are streetwise, but our boys rose to the challenge.
“They are helped a lot by the likes of Sean Welsh, Tom Walsh and Shane Sutherland. These guys are important, not only for pushing the club forward, but they will help to develop these kids as well.
“It has been an eye-opener and they have come in and hit the ground running. The manager likes what he sees and tells them to embrace this opportunity.
“All round, with the experienced boys helping, and the way the young lads have been performing, it’s encouraging.
“People can be critical and say we should be scoring five or six against teams from the Highland League. We actually could have scored a few more goals on Saturday.
“We missed a penalty and Manny (Duku) missed a few chances, but that was only our second game. We’re still dusting the cobwebs off.”
Youngsters working hard to be smash hits
The former Aberdeen keeper, who played close to 200 games for ICT from 2008, is clearly enjoying seeing the youngsters flourish at Inverness.
He wants them to take on board the information the coaches are giving them to help them reach the heights.
He stressed: “I have been privileged to coach the young players first hand. I know what they’re capable of and what their potential is.
“All you can do is give them the tools for success. Ultimately, it comes down to them. It’s not up to me or anyone else. We will give them the information to go and make a success of it.
“It’s about how hard they want to work at it and, by the looks of things, they do work hard and a good future could be there for them.
“But, it’s very early days and there will be lots of ups and downs. They have the adrenaline, but let’s see six months down the line in December when it’s snowing or we’re at Fort George and there are horizontal hailstones lashing down.
“That’s when you ask ‘can you have that same desire?’ They will need to learn and it’s brilliant for me. The manager is really positive with them and how we’re looking and how we’re going to do that.”
Esson said that word in the youngsters’ ears from the seniors on and off the field is essential.
He added: “Last season, we missed a big number of experienced players in a number of games and that’s tough. For all I’m praising the young boys, they also need the older boys around to help them.
“Hopefully we can keep injuries to a minimum next season.”