You've seen the graphics on social media with their accompanying captions; often borderline accusatory in tone, chiding many Scottish Premiership clubs for not giving their youngsters a chance in the first team, and nearly always descending into a multi-post argument about B teams, sensible use of the loan system, and the state of the national team in five to ten years time. 

Incidentally, players aged 21 or under have played 1,007 minutes of league football in green and white so far this season. But it's fair to say that in recent seasons Hibs, who have prided themselves on the strength of their academy in the last ten years or so, haven't been particularly pro-active in terms of giving minutes to youngsters. Part of that has been down to circumstance, with the team fighting for Europe last season, and fighting to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle the year before that, but after a handful of false starts, we may be seeing the tide turning. 

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Away from Easter Road this season Murray Aiken is catching the eye on loan at Airdrieonians on a weekly basis, while Josh O'Connor has three goals in 13 appearances for the Diamonds. Oscar MacIntyre is finally getting regular SPFL gametime at Queen of the South, Dylan Tait is playing week in, week out for Hamilton while Dan MacKay registered an assist on his first league start for Livingston. The goalkeeping situation at Hibs has unfortunately robbed Murray Johnson of the chance to build on his loan stint with Airdrie last season but one would imagine getting him out on loan in January, once Jojo Wollacott has returned to full fitness, will be a top priority.

Hibs Observer: Murray Aiken has been impressing for Airdrie on loanMurray Aiken has been impressing for Airdrie on loan (Image: Rob Casey/SNS Group)

Darren McGregor's promotion to head coach of the club's under-18s, coupled with Guillaume Beuzelin's stewardship of the development side, and Gareth Evans' role as academy chief, means there are three individuals in key positions who know what it takes to play for Hibs and be successful, with all three winning silverware during their playing careers. As well as McGregor, the club's youngsters can look up to stalwarts such as Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson, while David Gray's presence on the coaching staff is another well-respected figure who's been there, done it, and scored the winner in green and white - and tasted trophy success.

Closer to home the arrival of Nick Montgomery has only served to strengthen this approach, highlighted by the first-team fast-tracking of Rory Whittaker and subsequent senior debut for a player who only turned 16 in August. McGregor is aware of his own standing at the club, particularly as a born and bred Leither and boyhood Hibee to boot, but true to form he shines a spotlight on those around him as the bona fide inspiration for his young charges.

"I say to the 18s all the time that they don’t have to look far to see a David Gray or a Lewis Stevenson or a Paul Hanlon," he said. "These guys are stalwarts who have been at the club nine, ten, 11 years - Lewis might have been there a bit longer...  Guys who live and breathe the club and work hard every day regardless of the situation and the circumstances. That’s what I’m trying to pass onto the younger guys. To be a professional footballer you need to deal with obstacles and adversity sometimes more than technical ability - so that when they jump up to the first team there are no surprises.”

Hibs Observer: Hibs Under-18 head coach Darren McGregorHibs Under-18 head coach Darren McGregor (Image: Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Since McGregor took the reins of the club's oldest youth side in the summer he has seen Jacob MacIntyre, Reuben McAllister, Kanayo Megwa, and Rudi Molotnikov invited to the first team's pre-season training camp in Spain and McAllister, Megwa, and Molotnikov subsequently make their senior bows as well as Whittaker's historic debut. With other academy prospects like Jacob Blaney, Robbie Hamilton, and Malek Zaid among those also training with the first-team squad, it may not be too long before the next Josh Doig or Ryan Porteous is getting regular gametime in the senior ranks.

“I always say it’s down to the individual. There will be a hundred people before me that have helped them get to where they are but ultimately, for them to take that step across the white line, they need to have the confidence to do that," McGregor continued. "That can sometimes be developed but a lot of the time they have got it and it’s just about nurturing it and getting them to a point where they feel they can take that step. I’m sure there will be more to come.”

It's not just the first team that's experiencing this bump in younger players coming to the fore. Arran McSporran of the club's under-16s side has recently been turning out for the under-18s at right-back; Whittaker's ascension to the first-team squad creating an opening for him, while 16-year-old Ryan Mallon has also been featuring in goals for McGregor's squad along with a number of others of the same age. Last month when Hibs Under-18s journeyed up to Cormack Park to play Aberdeen there were a handful of under-14s on the bench. 

Earlier this month 15-year-old Rowena Armitage became the fourth-youngest player to represent Hibs Women in a competitive game when she came on as a replacement for Katie Fraine in the final moments of the side's 6-2 Sky Sports Cup victory over Aberdeen at Meadowbank, while her Hibs Girls Academy colleagues Astrud Nevin - who was named in the matchday squad for last weekend's defeat by Rangers - and Hannah Reid featured during a pre-season friendly win against Montrose in the summer and likely won't be far away from Grant Scott's thoughts this season as a man who isn't afraid to pitch youngsters into senior action.

Hibs Observer: Rowena Armitage became the fourth-youngest Hibs Women player in history when she came off the bench against AberdeenRowena Armitage became the fourth-youngest Hibs Women player in history when she came off the bench against Aberdeen (Image: Hibernian FC)

In an interview during the summer the Hibs Women head coach insisted that rekindling the pathway from the academy to the first team was immeasurably important to the club's progress.

“You know from my time here in the past that it's something we always did: we had a good youth academy, a lot of strong players coming through, and I’m not a coach who’s frightened to put players in and give them a run," Scott said. 

“For ourselves it’s really important that we re-establish that connection between the academy and the first team and that young players, when they’re deciding which club to play for, know that if they come to Hibs they will get a chance at the highest level working with some of the top players in the country. I think it’s important that we continue to do that.”

Since his arrival in mid-September Montgomery has been a very visible figure at development-squad and reserve games, women's fixtures, under-18s encounters, and matches involving younger academy teams. This is likely down to his general interest in coaching but also a desire to immerse himself in all things Hibs, and to fully understand what makes it tick. Crucially it is not just a watching brief; he has been speaking to and interacting with kids throughout the youth structure - something that has struck a chord with the parents and players.

Speaking about Whittaker's debut Montgomery was candid about his hopes and plans for young players at the club. 

Hibs Observer: Rory Whittaker with Hibs head coach Nick MontgomeryRory Whittaker with Hibs head coach Nick Montgomery (Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“Rory's a local boy, he’s been in the academy a long time, and there is no better feeling than giving a young lad like him his debut. But more than that he deserved it. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have got it, and I thought he took his opportunity with both hands," he explained. And echoing his Hibs Women counterpart he added: "For young players at the football club and young players in and around the area who might choose a different club over coming to Hibs, this was an opportunity to show there’s a pathway into the first team."

Staff members at HTC have spoken of the forensic nature of the research carried out by Montgomery and right-hand men Sérgio Raimundo and Miguel Miranda since they walked through the door at the Ormiston training base - and not just those working on the footballing side of things, either, although McGregor has already seen a big shift from just catching glimpses of first-team training. 

“I don’t get to watch much of it but I can see, when they are only a wee bit away from where we train, the intensity of training, the time they are on the pitch, and the amount of stuff the manager’s done in a short period of time that you can actually see on the pitch, which is quite rare," he continued. "So hopefully it will keep getting better and players, as they start to understand the manager’s philosophy, will show it more on the pitch.

“I’ve been very impressed [since Montgomery's arrival]. We’ve changed the way we play at 18s for myself and the younger lads and the transition. Ultimately that’s why we are here, to help the transition from 18s to first team, so we can mimic everything they do from a technical or tactical perspective. I’m learning as well which is great. The gaffer’s experience, his assistants Sérgio and Miguel are unbelievable, and they are slowly drip-feeding information to us and hopefully you will see that in the 18s team."

Hibs had a formidable under-18s team a couple of seasons back, with their canter to the league title and progression to the latter stages of the Youth Cup an indication of their individual and collective ability. But were they hampered by UEFA's stringent guidelines preventing them from playing on loan for another club while competing in the Youth League? The victory over Nantes in France, penalty shoot-out success over Molde at Easter Road, and the chance to test themselves against Borussia Dortmund and come so agonisingly close to progression were unrivalled experiences, but it perhaps prevented players from getting vital loan experience at a crucial juncture in their careers, with many of them now making up for lost time. 

But fast-forward a few months and it seems like things are starting to click in terms of youth development and pathway under a manager who is using his own experiences as a player and coach to try to build something memorable at Hibs.

As a youngster, Montgomery battled glandular fever and tonsillitis during his final year at Temple Moor High School, and with no guarantee of a scholarship at hometown club Leeds United, he asked to be released so he could find another club. His mother sent handwritten letters to several clubs prompting Sheffield United to offer the young Montgomery a trial. His performance in the match led to Blades youth team coach Russell Slade putting a two-year scholarship on the table. 

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But football can be unpredictable at the best of times, and during the first year of his time at Bramall Lane he suffered a broken and dislocated ankle during a game at Bradford City, an injury that would require surgery and consign him to the sidelines for the best part of a year.

"I asked the surgeon if I could play again and he said,' hopefully, but we’ll have to see.” I only had two years to get a pro contract, and I was out for eight months," Montgomery recalled.

Montgomery fought back but endured another trip to hospital during the second year of his scholarship after arriving at Bramall Lane for a youth fixture with a headache that led to vomiting. He was sent home and after the club doctor visited, was ferried to Sheffield Children's Hospital by ambulance for treatment for bacterial meningitis, spending two weeks on a drip and enduring lumbar punctures.

But again he bounced back, making an impression shortly after Neil Warnock took the reins at United. A hat-trick scored during a mid-week reserve-team game with the manager watching on from the stands led to a chance to train with the senior squad, and subsequent involvement in the first-team game that weekend, less than 24 hours after Montgomery had been offered a three-year deal. That initial contract offer not only kickstarted more than a decade with the Blades as a player, it shaped Montgomery's own approach to coaching from his early days as Central Coast Mariners manager.

Hibs Observer: A young Nick Montgomery in action for Sheffield United against Sheffield Wednesday in a Worthington Cup tieA young Nick Montgomery in action for Sheffield United against Sheffield Wednesday in a Worthington Cup tie (Image: Mark Thompson / Allsport)

"I’d coached in the Mariners’ academy, and we had good young players. I’d seen young talent at other clubs not get opportunities because their clubs brought in experienced players and visa players from top leagues around the world. They just needed an opportunity, like Neil Warnock gave me at Sheffield United," he told the Coaches Voice in an interview last month shortly before his appointment as Hibs manager.

But it wasn't just his own experiences as a youngster. The premature birth of twin daughters Leah and Chloe in meant more time in hospital, and more football missed for the new dad. Eventually the chance to move to Australia with the Mariners arose and the family began a new life in New South Wales. Montgomery continued his playing career with the Gosford side and after brief spell with Wollongong Wolves, returned to the Central Coast Stadium in 2016 to begin his coaching career.

After linking up with Raimundo for the first time, the pair set about an entire rebuild of the club's academy set-up, introducing a new game model and structure. Two years later the first players were advancing to the Mariners first team. In 2021 he was named head coach and set about building a team of people who 'understood the culture we were trying to create... an honest, hard-working, development culture in which we try to improve everybody'. The aim was to foster an environment in which everyone could grow; changing the culture so to speak. Sound familiar? It should.

Hibs Observer: Nick Montgomery with Jason Cummings after Central Coast Mariners' 6-1 victory over Melbourne CityNick Montgomery with Jason Cummings after Central Coast Mariners' 6-1 victory over Melbourne City (Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Several events during Montgomery's tenure at Mariners are particularly significant. The rejuvenation of Jason Cummings is one headline story but his work with Garang Kuol, who debuted at 17, became the youngest player since Pelé to feature in the knockout stages of the World Cup, and sealed a move to Newcastle, hammers home that desire to give youngsters a chance by believing in them, and trusting them, and developing them. And it's not enough for Montgomery to develop good technical players - he wants to nurture them tactically, emotionally, and mentally as well. He has only been in the job for a month if that but we have already seen the fruits of that approach in differing fashions with Whittaker, Jair Tavares - who has been brought back in from the cold and seems much happier- and Lewis Miller, who has continued his upward trajectory under his old Mariners coach.

The Easter Road side once prided itself on the conveyor belt of talent emerging from its academy to jostle for a place in the first-team squad and there are a number of exciting players in the club's youth ranks who are starting to attract attention, not just from supporters but from the coaching staff as well. It might be early days but the initial signs are that the youth production line has kicked into action once again, thanks to a new foreman who seems to know exactly what it needs to run smoothly - and Whittaker is unlikely to be the last teenager to get a first-team chance this season.