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Football: ECK'S MEN ARE YOUNG AT HEART; FOOTBALL Scotland boss gears for Faroes qualifier.

Byline: By David LEGGAT

ALEX McLEISH last night welcomed the return of the Old Firm United for national service.

In fact, the Scotland manager knows he could even turn the national team into a select side from the country's big two ... not that he plans to.

McLeish has named a round dozen Old Firm stars - half of his squad - for the friendly in Austria and Euro qualifier away to the Faroes a week later on June 6.

McLeish said: "I didn't look at the numbers when I was picking the players, but this is a sign of the times if you take the effect of the great depression, in terms of money, in the Scottish game.

"What that has done is encourage clubs to look at their youth policies and that makes good reading for the national side." In fact Mcleish has already done his bit as a club gaffer, nurturing the careers of three men in the Scots squad, during his time with Rangers.

Keeper Allan McGregor is already assured of his first cap in Vienna, while right-back Alan Hutton and midfielder Charlie Adams both look a safe bets to make their debuts against the Austrians.

But, it isn't just at Ibrox and Parkhead that where McLeish for homegrown talent. He revealed Dundee United's gifted left sided ace Barry Robson came close to being selected. McLeish said: "I considered Barry for that left-sided role - though Craig Levein has been playing him inside - and his performances have been exceptional.

"In the end, I felt with Darren Fletcher and James McFadden back it might not be appropriate to have Barry in this time, but he will stay on my radar."

Another name close to a call-up was Garry O'Connor, who has made his peace with the national team boss.

McLeish watched a DVD of fit again O'Connor return to action and score as Lokomotiv Moscow made it into the final of the Russian Cup, but decided to wait to give the walk-out striker his recall.

McLeish said: "I spoke to his agent Rudi Vata and let him know that Garry will come into the category of players not involved this time, who I will look at again for a friendly in August."

That game will almost certainly go on at Pittodrie and could be against China, South Africa or one of two South American countries.

McLeish said: "The game was originally taken by Walter Smith as it will give match practice to players who have not been playing in recent weeks.

"We do not plan to make wholesale changes and experiment because we want to build a momentum going into the Faroes match."

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THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT: Scotland boss Alex McLeish says the national side is benefiting from SPL sides putting more emphasis on their youth systems
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 13, 2007
Words:467
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