Brian McLaughlin believes unity on and off the park inspired Scotland in their successful UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying stage.


McLaughlin’s youngsters progressed to the elite round on the back of an unbeaten trip to Estonia.


They opened with a well-earned 2-1 win over Andorra – with Marc Leonard bagging a brace.


A 3-0 defeat was inflicted on the hosts thanks to goals from Jamie Semple, Billy Gilmour and Dean Campbell.


A goalless draw with Denmark rounded off a positive week away but the national youth coach was just as heartened by what he saw in the stand.


Highly-rated Hearts midfielder Harry Cochrane – a Scottish FA JD Performance School graduate – was excused to continue his progress in the Jambos’ first-team but his parents, Ross and Sarah, still made the trek to support the rest of the squad.


He said: “They are a really tight bunch and we got a great example of that in Estonia, when Harry’s Mum and Dad made the trip despite him being called back by Hearts.


“They still wanted to go to the games and share the moment with the other parents. They cheered as loudly as anyone else.


“There’s a real togetherness. It’s easy to say but with this group it’s obvious.


“I could give countless examples of incidents when they’ve helped each other out off the pitch. No-one is ever left on their own to deal with anything and that’s so great for someone in my position to see.”


Cochrane has won widespread praise for his mature showings in a Hearts shirt.


While McLaughlin would be forgiven for bemoaning the withdrawal of an influential player, he took the opposite view.


He added: “Harry not being with us is a success story in itself, as strange as that sounds.


“It’s probably the one time a club has asked for a player at this level to be excused and then actually played them.


“The boys in Estonia were asking if we could stick on his games so they could cheer him on. They love the success Harry’s had and it’s only encouraged them to try and follow in his footsteps.


“There are a good few of them who I don’t think are too far away from their own first teams.”


Indeed, Ethan Erhahon was recently handed his St Mirren debut, while Dean Campbell has had a taste of the first-team scene at Aberdeen.


“I see a big difference in some of them and it’s been great to watch them mature.


“Since we first started as a group in February some of them have played in their first teams, while others like Billy Gilmour and Terry Taylor have had the challenge of moving to England and establishing themselves down there.


“Others are training regularly with senior players. It’s credit to the boys and the clubs for the way they’ve managed their development.


“It comes as no surprise, though. I know the way they live their lives and how dedicated they are.”


McLaughlin’s thoughts will turn to a warm-up fixture before the Elite Round draw on 6 December, with the ultimate goal of securing a place in the finals next summer in England.


He said: “We’ll hopefully get at least one game together to build on the hard work in Estonia.


“That was such an important experience in itself, in difficult weather conditions.


“It was their first exposure to a tournament setting like that and they adapted well.


“They trusted the work we’d put in and played their normal way. I couldn’t be happier with how it went.


“It gives us real momentum going into the Elite Round.”




October 22, 2017 – Scotland 2-1 Andorra

October 25, 2017 – Scotland 3-0 Estonia

October 28, 2017 – Scotland 0-0 Denmark