ANDY KIRK insists Hearts prodigy Aaron Hickey has the world at his feet – but should be in no rush to leave Tynecastle.
The precocious left-back has caught the eye of English champions Manchester City after exploding on to the scene with the Jambos last term.
He turned in a stellar showing against Celtic in May’s Scottish Cup final at the age of 16 and has continued to shine this season, despite a notable blip in the form of a red card against Aberdeen in August.
Kirk, Hearts’ under-18 and reserve team manager, has watched Hickey race through the ranks in Gorgie after arriving from Celtic in 2018 and is adamant the youngster’s rise has come as no surprise to him.
And he reckons Hickey should continue to progress under boss Craig Levein before being seduced by bright lights of the Etihad.
Kirk lauded: “I’m not really surprised by how well Aaron has done. He came in last year, initially as a midfielder, then one day we played him at left-back because we were short and he was outstanding.
“He uses both feet, is comfortable on the ball; he is just a kid that knows how to play football.
“I think Aaron has a big, big future in the game – he can go anywhere he wants if he keeps on the track he is on.
“But he is in the right place right now. He is getting first-team football, playing under a manager who believes in him and you can see how highly regarded he is by the fans.
“His performances have been really good and, at his age, it’s inevitable that big teams will come and watch him. The interest will come and at some stage something will happen.”
Kirk admits that Hickey’s emergence as a first-team regular is bittersweet for him, with the 17-year-old no longer seen as part of his reserve squad which will travel to face Waterford United in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup on Friday night.
The same goes for Andy Irving, who has been a standout in midfield during an otherwise underwhelming start to the season for Hearts’ senior side.
And Kirk believes the dynamic duo are raising the bar for youngsters at the club.
He continued: “We tell the players: ‘If you are good enough, you’ll get the opportunity’.
“It’s sometimes about managing their expectations when they see Aaron [Hickey], Andy [Irving], Connor Smith get opportunities.
“They all think it needs to be just around the corner for them too. It won’t always come that quickly, and won’t always come at all, but if you are good enough and put the work in, you will get a chance at Hearts.”
Nevertheless, Kirk is taking a strong squad across the water, with Harry Cochrane, Anthony McDonald and Connor Smith among those who have already made waves in the first-team.
And the former Northern Ireland internationalist says that sums up how seriously Hearts are taking the tournament – as they balance a costly journey with priceless experience.
He added: “It’s a different challenge in terms of getting across to Ireland to play – in as cost-effective way as possible.
“It’s a lot of money considering the length of time we are there. If it’s a smaller club without the resources that Hearts have, it could be a real issue
“But I’m a fan of the tournament, the competitive edge to it and the fact we are getting younger players exposed to playing against senior pros. And the results and performances our boys have had this season have been great.”