Age of opportunity fills champions of youth with pride...

ALLY McCOIST did not have to travel far to see his potential first-team stars in action last summer.

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Billy Kirkwood is youth supremo at Rangers
Billy Kirkwood is youth supremo at Rangers

With his squad decimated by a raft of high profile departures and moves to bring in fresh faces leaving him short of numbers, he had little choice but to dip into the Murray Park ranks to bolster his options.

It was a high risk strategy that has yielded major rewards, with untried and untested proteges such as Lewis Macleod, Barrie McKay, Fraser Aird and Robbie Crawford making the most of their chance to shine for Rangers.

They are the names on the lips of the Ibrox crowd, yet they are players many would likely never have seen in action before Gers kicked off life in the Irn-Bru Third Division.

McCoist has always been well aware of the potential that lies behind the crested gates of Murray Park, though.

"The manager has been great with the kids and handled the situation brilliantly," Rangers youth supremo Billy Kirkwood told SportTimes.

"Also Kenny McDowall, who has worked in youth departments previously, and Ian Durrant, who was in the youth set-up, have played a big role.

"They have all got their finger on the pulse as to what is happening with the players in the youth department

"It is great to show their faith in these young kids but when they are given the opportunity, they have got to be able to grab it."

It is one thing McCoist being willing to give young talent a chance and quite another for the budding Blues to take it.

Macleod has undoubtedly been the cream of crop so far but the other Auchenhowie kids have impressed, handling life in the first-team arena with aplomb thus far.

Kirkwood said: "We say to them all the time that if they are given an opportunity then they have to try and impress.

"It is great that the lads have this chance this season.

"We just need to make sure that they are ready because they might only get the one opportunity to make an impact.

"If you can take it, great, you then want to go on and have a great career. You need to be ready to take it and that is what we want to achieve in the youth department.

"When they go round to train with the first team, they have to show up and impress.

"We hope that they can catch the eye in the training sessions and then hopefully get their chance in a game."

It is McCoist who will reap the rewards of the work done by the Gers youth team as he nurtures them from Murray Park hopeful to Ibrox star.

The process is a lengthy one but Kirkwood is delighted to see the eye-catching end results as his former students earn their stripes.

"The whole department has a lot of pride in seeing the lads progress," he said.

"When you see them start or come on, it is a nice feeling.

"It is not just one person, it is the coaches, part-time and full-time, the scouts, it is a whole range of people.

"Young Lewis has been at Murray Park since he was 10 so everyone he has been in contact with has helped make him the prospect he is.

"You hope that everything he has been told rubs off.

"The bottom line is that these lads have got to be ready and it is our job to make sure they are. It is a good motto the club has got, Ready."

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