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Old Firm cauldron of hate can still provide steep learning curve for colts

IT was, as most observers said, no environment for kids.

At Celtic Park last Monday, teenagers like Jack Breslin and Aiden Nesbitt on one side and Robby McCrorie and Ryan Hardie on the other, were contesting a fierce Glasgow Cup derby in front of 8,000 partisan supporters, some of whom displayed an apparent predilection for setting off flares, smoke bombs and ripping up seats.

Next week, however, those same young men will be a band of brothers with the Scotland Under-17 team in Malta which has reached the top eight in Europe at that age level. If it was ever thus with Old Firm players, even younger ones, assistant coach Scot Gemmill said last night that, as abhorrent as some of it may have been, the experience should have done the players more good than harm.

"I think it is fantastic to play in a game that matters, in front of people who are passionate," said Gemmill. "I think I am right in saying that quite a few of them would have played the year before so it is fantastic they have that experience and it's also good that it's standard procedure for them. They are quickly amassing experience of playing in big games."

Gemmill, who will assume control of Scotland's Under-17s on a permanent basis from performance director Mark Wotte after the tournament, feels better things are ahead for Scottish football. In particular, he gushes about the 2000s, the first year group to benefit from the entirety of the SFA's performance schools programme, but this clutch of teenagers display little inferiority complex. The young Scots are grouped with Portugal, Germany and Switzerland, with the opener against the Portuguese this Friday to be screened on Eurosport 2.

Gemmill feels this generation are more analytical and tactically aware than ever before - their successes have been down to organisation and a stout defensive record - and is well aware keeping teenagers focused and professional for the duration of the tournament is every bit as important as the on-field play.

"It's definitely a factor, something the staff have spoken about," said Gemmill, the former Nottingham Forest player. "It's definitely easier now with WiFi and they bring their own computers. Now it is easier, but also these players are used to it already even at this age and they also understand that it's very relevant to the teams.

"It's not just what happens on the field, off the field is a really important part of whether you will be successful. Eat properly, drink properly, recover properly. The professionalism of the players is an absolutely essential part of giving yourself every advantage you can."

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