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Scotland youngsters won’t know they’re superstars for years

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“They will believe in themselves and others will believe in them too.”

Andy McNeil predicts Scotland’s Under-17 heroes can go on to become the stars of tomorrow.

He knows what he’s talking about. The former Hibs keeper was part of the celebrated young Scots side in 2006 which got all the way to the Final of the Under-19 European Championships in Poland before eventually going down to Spain.

He has watched on as his team-mates from that side Steven Fletcher,

Robert Snodgrass, Graham Dorrans and Lee Wallace have all established themselves in the national side.

More impressive still have been the fortunes of the players he ran out alongside for Southampton in their run to the FA Youth Cup Final just 12 months earlier.

Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Theo Walcott a trio that combined now represent some £150-million worth of football talent.

Yet as he looked ahead to the Young Lions’ semi-final against Holland in Malta this afternoon, McNeil stressed that all that will be on the players’ minds will be trying to get the country through to the competition’s showpiece.

“At the time, the significance of these events doesn’t really hit you. It is only years afterwards that you get it,” he says.

“I am not saying it is not very exciting. Of course it is. It is more that at this stage of your career, you are getting really exciting stuff happening all the time and you tend to just focus on the next challenge in front of you.

“The year we did so well in the UEFA Under-19s, I was in the FA Youth Cup Final with Southampton. Then after Poland, we went on to the Under-20 World Cup in Canada.

“You know that there are good players around you. If you analysed it at the time, you would probably realise that a few would kick on, while others wouldn’t.

“But it is not something you really spend a lot of time worrying about.”

Despite playing in Hibs’ 2007 League Cup Final win over Kilmarnock, McNeil struggled to fully establish himself at Easter Road, and had spells at Montrose, Raith Rovers and Livingston.

Now 27 years old, McNeil is looking for a new Scottish club, following the enjoyable diversion of a spell in New Zealand with Waibop United.

“It can be funny where football takes you and why, and I guess the guys in the current Scotland Under-17s side will find that out for themselves,” he continues.

“Opportunity is a big thing whether somebody likes you, whether somebody sees something in you and is prepared to give you a chance.

“Take Gareth Bale. Harry Redknapp used to play him at left-back. It was only when he was switched into midfield that Spurs discovered how much better he was going forward.

“Charlie Adam is another. He was an unwanted man at Rangers yet went on to become a star in the English Premier League with both Liverpool and now Stoke City.

“Hibs passed up the chance to keep Stefan Scougall because they thought he was too small and look at him now. He plays every game for Sheffield United in League One and starred in their FA Cup semi-final against Hull City.

“How can he be too small and too slow for the Hibs youth team and go on to play every week at that standard?

“That is what football is. There are loads of guys I played with who, given the right set of circumstances, could have really kicked on.

“But this experience will help these kids. They will believe in themselves and others will believe in them too.”