Hearts record-breaker Aaron Hickey provides cause for optimism despite Scottish Cup pain against Celtic

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Sixteen years, 11 months and 16 days.

Hearts may not have brought the trophy back to Gorgie but they did create a little piece of history at Hampden after Aaron Hickey became the youngest player ever to start a Scottish Cup final.

And when the dust settles and the pain subsides following a galling day in Glasgow, his performance should provide some solace and cause for optimism.

Hickey only made his Hearts debut on May 10 (Pic: Hearts TV)

Hickey embraced the occasion and within minutes of Willie Collum’s first whistle, it was clear he would not be overawed. He actually joined Hearts from Celtic last May and was evidently keen to show his old flame what they were missing.

He was unflustered in possession; little half-touches, head up, looking for a team-mate. There were players on the pitch twice Hickey’s age who looked more spooked by the occasion.

The Scotland under-17 internationalist was similarly fearless in attack, linking well with Jake Mulraney on the left-flank and even registering the first shot on target of the contest, stinging the palms of Scott Bain from distance.

Hickey played a pivotal part in the opening goal, finding Arnaud Djoum with a neat pass inside. The Cameroonian’s shot eventually landed at the feet of Ryan Edwards who slammed home.

Delirious Jambos celebrate Edwards’ opener

Perhaps the most impressive attribute shared by many of the kids who have made their senior bows under Levein is that they appear to have ice in their veins.

From Harry Cochrane putting Stevie Mallan on his backside with a shimmy to Connor Smith leaving two Celtic players discombobulated with a Cruyff turn last week, there is a healthy swagger among the academy boys at Riccarton.

“What encourages me more than anything else is the state of the young players at this football club. Aaron [Hickey] is just another one,” said Levein following Hearts’ defeat.

“I am privileged enough to be behind the scenes and I know what is going on and the quality we have. That keeps me going and gives me the belief that we can improve. I’m absolutely certain we can.”

Levein insists he is enthused by the emerging generation at Hearts

Hickey visibly tired in the second half. It would be remiss to suggest otherwise. He had only previously completed 90 minutes of senior football – in last Sunday’s dress rehearsal against the Hoops – and the intensity of the contest took its toll.

Nevertheless, the overall quality of his showing was underlined by the relative anonymity of James Forrest. The best player in this country this season, dripping in accolades from awards season, was uncharacteristically quiet.

Hickey’s selection may have prompted a flurry of raised eyebrows but, at 16, he came of age on the biggest stage of all.

 
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