“Fantastic for the players and fantastic for the club”, was coach John Sludden’s assessment of the debut performances of Shire teenagers Aidan McKeown and Chris McLaughlin in Saturday’s 7-0 win over Nithsdale Wanderers in the first round of the SFA South Region Challenge Cup.
While Chris’s 86th minute goal was the icing on the cake as far as his senior debut went, the contribution of Aidan at right-back was not overlooked either in the post-game analysis from the coach, who only brought both players in a few weeks ago.
It was certainly a step up for Chris who was playing under-17 football with Milton Amateurs last term and it represented a comeback for Aidan who had stopped playing football after a spell as part of the youth set-up at Hibernian.
“The two kids were great and it was finished off by Chris’s goal,” said the Shire coach. “They have been training with us for a few months and we have been keeping an eye on their progress,
“They have both done well and we thought this [game] was a good opportunity for them to make their debuts in the first team and I think they can be really proud of their performances.”
There was little doubt that both players got plenty out of the experience. For both playing in the adult seniors was a clear step up and they liked it so much they want another go as quickly as possible.
“It did come as a surprise,” said Chris of his inclusion in Saturday’s starting line-up. “But at the same time I had been working hard at training and hoping that I would get a chance. It was a great feeling and the next step now is to progress and get more experience in the team.”
Overall, the wide man had plenty to be pleased about. Before finishing off Simon White’s pass for the seventh goal he had played Paul Sludden through for Shire’s fourth goal. “It was good to get a goal and an assist,” he said. “I thought I came more into the game in the second half – we increased the tempo in the second half and we went out and did what we had to do to win the game.”
Chris says he hadn’t have any time to think about the build-up to his goal but he was determined not to miss out on a scoring opportunity. “I just saw the ball come through to me and when it got to my feet I knew I was through on the keeper one-on-one and I knew I just had to take my chance.
“Making my debut was an experience in itself but to grab a goal and an assist makes it ten times better.”
While Chris got the goal, Aidan had plenty to be pleased about as well. The young defender has participated in a number of closed-door games over the past few weeks and those who have watched the games have come away impressed enough to tell others to “keep an eye out” for the teenager.
His performance in the Nithsdale Wanderers encounter lived up to that early praise but it might never have happened if he had not reversed an earlier decision to simply stop playing the game.
“I started out with Milton and then went to Hibernian but I fell away from football for a while but I’m back enjoying it again,” said Aidan, who, after a spell neither playing or being involved in football, slowly started to find out that he was missing it.
“When you get up on a Saturday and there’s nothing to do you start to miss it,” he said. “I’ve got the bug back and back into it and you now don’t want it to stop again. I played for about six months last season then fell away.
“I lost all my fitness and that was hard to get back but I have worked hard and the rewards are in days like today.”
Both players are well aware that opportunities to break into the side on a regular basis will be down to more hard work and application. But neither look shy of a bit of hard work and Chris and Aidan certainly can’t wait to get another shot at it.