WHEN asked recently if Finn Russell, the maverick Racing 92 fly-half, would make the match against Argentina on Saturday, Scotland rugby head coach Gregor Townsend responded that he was not an expert in human evolution. Russell’s partner, international heptathlete Emma Canning, is due to give birth any day. Perhaps the interviewer can be forgiven for hoping that the world-class back would be available to face the Pumas given Scotland’s dire Autumn Test Series form.

It was a similarly forlorn hope that had consumed the sports desk this week. The avid and attentive reader will have been wondering what on earth has been going on with this page over the past few days. Monday’s edition reading “Tomorrow: Nick Rodger” became James Cairney on Tuesday; and today, amidst a torrent of baby news, yours truly has been saddled with the responsibility.

Yes, congratulations to our golf writer, Nick Rodger, and Mrs Golf Correspondent on welcoming their second junior golf correspondent into the world. Perhaps like Townsend, I had hoped they could stave off the arrival for a couple of days to hold on to a key cog in the operation; instead, clearly in a rush to catch the DP World Tour Championship starting today in Dubai, junior came hurtling down the back nine and was in the clubhouse before a word was typed.

All that’s left to do is for Mr Rodger to enter Herald Towers with car seat in tow and, in customary baptismal cheer, hear the immortal line “When can he do a shift for us?” Once the laughter subsides, we’ll get back to work and I’ll eventually get to the point in this column.

Amidst all this baby news and thoughts of a brave new world, your correspondent turns as every doting father does to questions of: What will the next generation of football players coming through in Scotland look like?

Well, for an early indication, I have decided to survey the youth scene in the cinch Premiership and work out a starting XI aged 21 and under to give us all a healthy dose of optimism.


Goalkeeper: Given the general maturation rate of players in this position, the custodian of the gloves will simply be the most promising young keeper in the league.

Robby McCrorie (Rangers, 24) It was expected that McCrorie would finally push for his first-team place this season along with Jon McLauchlin; however, Allan McGregor’s decision to extend his playing career has pushed McCrorie down the pecking order. But his best days lie ahead of him. Loan spells at Berwick Rangers, Morton and Queen of the South, before a spell in the top flight with Livingston, have allowed the goalie to rack up nearly 100 senior league matches and he will continue to push for his place at Rangers.


Ross Graham (Dundee United, 21) came through the youth ranks at Tannadice and his physical presence at the heart of the their defence has added much-needed steel to Liam Fox’s side. Graham’s return to the starting line-up recently has coincided with an impressive 4-0 win over Kilmarnock and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Aberdeen in the Premiership.

Leon King (Rangers, 18) has been thrust into the limelight. With his impressive physical attributes, pace and aerial abilities, he has slotted in at the heart of defence during a challenging spell for the club and has been a rare chink of light for supporters.

Alex Mitchell (St Johnstone, 21) joined Callum Davidson’s side on loan from Millwall and his no-compromise attitude has caught the eye. The centre-half even added a goal against Celtic last month.


Connor Barron (Aberdeen, 20) is in contract with the Pittodrie club until the summer of 2024 but Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack is keen to tie him down on fresh terms to ensure the club can secure maximum value for him. And it’s no wonder; the Scotland Under-21 internationalist has an army of admirers and having returned to fitness after an injury-hit start to the season is sure to feature prominently as Jim Goodwin’s side look to cement their place as the third force in Scotland.

Leighton Clarkson (Aberdeen, 21) has shown why he is considered to be a promising talent by parent club Liverpool as his loan spell has recovered from an early suspension for two yellow cards against Ross County. The Englishman turned in a man-of-the-match performance as he scored and provided an assist in the 4-1 win over Hibs this month.

Matt O’Riley (Celtic, 21) may have missed out on a dream place in the Denmark squad for the World Cup, but he has been a revelation since joining Ange Postecoglou’s side in January from MK Dons. The former Fulham trainee has been a rock alongside Callum McGregor and Aaron Mooy at the heart of the Scottish champions’ midfield and has the ability to reach the top.

Alex Lowry (Rangers, 18) is one of the most promising Scottish talents and many would question why he is not featuring more in Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side. With the side’s injury troubles and struggles in Europe appearing to have had a deflating impact on the team, Lowry’s nous and energy could be just what the Ibrox side need.

Lewis Neilson (Hearts, 19) was snapped up by Hearts from Dundee United by namesake manager Robbie and has shown already why he was so keen to get him on board.


Elias Melkersen (Hibernian, 19) joined the Easter Road club under previous manager Shaun Maloney, who was keen to shield the Norwegian teenager from the pressure of leading the line for his under-fire side. Despite not having scored a league goal in Scotland, the striker has the ability to come to prominence for Lee Johnson’s side.

Ross Tierney (Motherwell, 21) signed for Motherwell almost a year ago and the Republic of Ireland Under-21 internationalist has worked his way into manager Steven Hammell’s plans. Goals against Rangers and Celtic this season have shown he has the ability to rise to the big occasion.

Liel Abada (Celtic, 21) was a relative unknown when he signed for Celtic from Israeli side Maccabi Petah Tikva in his homeland for

£3.6 million in July 2021. A goal in his debut against Midtjylland in Champions League qualifying set the tone for what was to come, with 17 goals in his first 51 appearances demonstrating what an asset the youngster is to his club.