ROSS Tokely is confident Caley Thistle's current crop of rising stars will be given the chance to play for the first-team next season.
Inverness manager Terry Butcher has already lauded the efforts of his younger players during pre-season, with Nick Ross, Graeme Shinnie, Gavin Morrison and Shane Sutherland in particular all making a lasting impression.
Butcher's views are shared by Tokely, who maintains that with Caley Thistle having to scale down the size of their squad from last season, the youngsters can seize on the opportunity to make a name of themselves, having all shown up well in the Highland Capital club's five friendly wins so far.
"You might be playing against lesser sides but it's a chance to show the manager what you can do," said 30-year-old Tokely.
"Last Wednesday against Huntly the young boys showed they have the ability to step up, and if you get the chance as a young player then you've got to do all you can to take it. With both Richie Foran and myself suspended for the first league game, there are places up for grabs.I know the manager has brought in quite a few trialists during pre-season, but I'm sure he would much rather give a good youngster the chance.
"Gavin Morrison and Shane Sutherland have got the capability to play first-team football, while it's nice to see Nick Ross and Graeme Shinnie doing well especially Graeme, who has had an outstanding pre-season so far. He doesn't have any fear when he plays.
"It was obviously hugely disappointing to have gone down, but there are four or five young boys coming through who are all keen to stake their claim to be playing in the first-team.
"With us having a smaller squad this season there are going to be chances for them to come in. When they do they have to seize the opportunity."
Butcher, who conceded the performance of his predominantly young side in the 5-1 success at Huntly last week was "unexpected", had reason to hand the plaudits to his fledgling players once more after their efforts in helping Inverness defeat Scottish Division Two side Brechin 5-0.
Nick Ross took his goal tally to three in two games with a double at Glebe Park, while Graeme Shinnie and Shane Sutherland who also scored at Huntly and Gavin Morrison, all made an impact after coming off the bench in the second half.Such has been the impression left on Butcher by his youngsters that he would have no qualms about them playing for the first team should the opportunity arise.
"If you look at young Nick Ross and Graeme Shinnie in particular, I have no doubt they could play league football," he said.
"The test for them has been to come in and mix with the first-team squad. But they've settled in very easily and risen to the occasion.
"All the young players have shown they have the ability to learn very quickly, and even though they still have a long way to go they have shown an attitude and a desire that suggests they want to make it into the first team.
"The rapid emergence of the young players has, in my case at least, been a surprise, but it's also a nice feeling to know they are ready to come in if we need them."
Meanwhile, Butcher knows there is work to be done with the squad this week in preparation for the visit of Montrose on Saturday in the first round of the Challenge Cup.
The former Ipswich Town, Rangers and England defender was not totally satisfied by the display from his team at the weekend especially the passing, with too many wayward efforts causing concern.
"The scoreline looks as though we dominated the game, which we certainly didn't," he said in the aftermath of a game where Richie Foran and Adam Rooney (2) were also on target for Caley Thistle.