EXCLUSIVE: The blue shoots of recovery

THE dark clouds that hung over Murray Park are starting to lift, the silver linings shining brighter every day.

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Barrie McKay, Robbie Crawford and Lewis Macleod have made their mark on the Rangers first team this season and each of them have got long-term deals
Barrie McKay, Robbie Crawford and Lewis Macleod have made their mark on the Rangers first team this season and each of them have got long-term deals

For years Billy Kirkwood has helped nurture budding Light Blue talents hoping that they would one day grace Ibrox, but the Gers youth supremo never imagined the set of circumstances that would lead to his wishes coming true.

After a host of first-team stars deserted Rangers in the club's hour of need following their fall from grace last year, a fresh-faced band of brothers have found themselves thrown into battle on the frontline.

While the Ibrox crowd once chanted the names of Davis, Naismith and Whittaker, it is the likes of Lewis Macleod, Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird that are now on the lips of the Light Blue legions, the youngsters making the most of the opportunity Rangers' brush with death has presented them with.

"The amount of players that have come through is great. It is a credit to the lads the way they have conducted themselves," Kirkwood told SportTimes.

"For them and all the staff, it has been a hard, hard time.

"It has been well documented that it has been difficult for everyone at the club, but the young lads have handled themselves really well and got on with their business. It has been great to work with them.

"There is an opportunity that has arisen because of it all, it is the silver lining in the cloud.

"Some of the young lads might not have progressed through the ranks if it had stayed the same. The whole department has been through a hard 12 months.

"Every day we were coming in and picking up the paper and seeing something that Mr Whyte was doing or was not doing and it never stopped. It was a difficult time.

"This is new ground for any club, possibily in world football, the circumstances that have happened here but there are positives emerging."

The news that former chairman Craig Whyte had started administration proceedings did not come as a huge surprise given their well publicised financial difficulties but it still sent shockwaves across the football world.

As the club lurched from one negative headline to the next, fans' faith was tested to the limit and players' patience ran out as some left in the days that followed and many more in the summer.

The uncertainty took its toll on everyone connected with the club, with personal worries over job security and fears over Rangers' future paramount in their thoughts.

For Kirkwood, his staff and those under his wing, St Valentines Day kicked-off a chain of events that would test them to the limit but their commitment to the cause never wavered.

He said: "Every person in the youth department, there was not once they thought about walking away. We wanted to come in and make sure the kids were looked after.

"We had to keep them in the loop with factual things and not things that were in newspapers or on the television.

"You could sense there was apprehension, but once we got them out training they were great, the lads never missed a heartbeat.

"As a staff, we chatted about things in the office. We were kept on our toes and kept in the loop and we just had to get on with our jobs. At the end of the day, we had to go with the flow.

"There is not a club in the world that has got to go through this scenario so there is not a benchmark for it.

"When the gaffer had six players for pre-season, I think it is top marks to get where we are and hopefully that will continue."

While the paperwork was being completed on Rangers' plunge into administration, life was continuing as normal for players and coaches alike, unaware of the heartache that was to follow.

Youth academy director Jimmy Sinclair and boss Ally McCoist were at a reserve match against Hibernian when the news broke, watching a group of players that have become this season's first team stars.

Chris Hegarty, Ross Perry, Andy Little, Andrew Mitchell, Robbie Crawford and Barrie McKay were all in action and Kirkwood is delighted to see his former pupils earning their honours in McCoist's first team.

He said: "There were a group of lads playing on that day that would never have thought they would be first team regulars today.

"In the circumstances, when you are looking at the first team players going for their own reasons, we always said to young lads, and it is even more relevant now because of the signing ban, that they had the opportunity.

"It is a challenge, they are playing in front of some of the biggest crowds in Britain. They have got to aspire to that and want that.

"We can give them the basics but they have got to have that drive and determination within themselves to get into the first team.

"The first team deserve a lot of credit, they are working with young lads that are not used to that environment.

"When Ian Durrant started at Rangers he was playing in a team of full internationals. The circumstances just now mean that isn't the case so the young lads are having to carry their corner of the team, which they are doing exceptionally well at the moment. Hopefully there are many more to come through."

* Rangers TV will be showing a documentary tomorrow charting the club's year since falling into administration.

The Rising: Rangers One Year On From Administration covers the extraordinary events from last spring to the present day. The programme starts at 7pm.

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