Former Raith Rovers wonderkid Kieron Bowie has lavished praise on ‘inspirational’ Kevin McDonald following his maiden season with Fulham.
Bowie, 18, made the life-altering decision to swap the Lang Toun of Kirkcaldy for the bright lights of London last summer and confesses that he endured bouts of homesickness during a testing, formative 12 months.
However, the precocious forward has emerged stronger from those trials and tribulations, and is quick to cite McDonald’s nurturing influence.
COVID-19 protocols have limited the contact youngsters can have with the senior side — indeed, they train in completely different complexes — however, Bowie has relished the chance to learn from his fellow Scot at Fulham.
The former Dundee midfielder has been unable to play this season due to a chronic kidney disease and underwent life-saving surgery this week, which was declared a success.
We caught up with Kev who confirmed his operation was a success.
Kev and his brother are both doing well as they begin their recovery from surgery.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) May 29, 2021
As such, the 32-year-old, who hails from Carnoustie, has been sharpening his coaching skills with the Craven Cottage kids and has emerged as a mentor to Bowie as he adapts to life south of the border.
“Kevin is always ready to give me advice in terms of my own game, or just if I want to talk about something while we are in the gym,” said Bowie.
“He’s really down-to-earth and I don’t even think of him as a coach — he’s just one of the boys, passing on his experience and leading by example on the training pitch. And he’s not lost a step, either. What a player!
“I’ve got so much respect for him and he can relate to what I’ve been through because he has been on that same journey, coming through in Scotland and then making a big move to England.
“Kev has been there, done it and when he speaks, you listen. He’s just a really inspirational guy, on and off the pitch.”
Bowie added: “I think he’ll be a top manager if that’s what he wants to do. Sometimes on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, he’ll take our [under-18s] session and his knowledge of the game is unbelievable.”
Bowie’s own journey has been remarkably rapid, making his debut for Rovers as a fresh-faced 16-year-old before going on to score 10 goals in 39 outings for the Stark’s Park club.
Within 18 months of his first-team debut, he earned Raith a six-figure fee by joining Fulham.
⚽️ – Left Midfield
👤 – Kieron Bowie
👕 – @RaithRovers
🗣️ "scored one, assisted another and could have easily helped net a couple more in Raith's win over their Northern Irish visitors"
— SPFL (@spfl) October 15, 2019
It is a whirlwind rise that would leave any youngster discombobulated and, despite living with an accommodating, friendly host family in London, the early months were tough.
“I struggled with homesickness a lot at the beginning,” he continued. “Being so far from home was really tough. I had never lived on my own; I had never been without that support from my mum in the same house.
“That was a big adjustment. I’m still only 18, so that was the biggest factor in the first couple of months. It’s a massive learning curve — especially away from football — and I’ve grown up a lot.
“When I was playing for Raith, that was my club, in my town and you feel a lot more comfortable in that situation. This was a big leap into the unknown, but I got there in the end.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) May 16, 2021
“Around Christmas, I started to feel a little bit more settled and find my rhythm. I was enjoying myself, started to build confidence and I was scoring goals. I kicked on from there.”
That would be an understatement.
Bowie helped Fulham claim the the Under-18s Premier League South title ahead of the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
They may have lost out in the National Final (where the north and south champions square off for the overall prize) but it still represented a fantastic first campaign in England for Bowie.
The talent in this pic! 🔥
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) May 16, 2021
“All the boys are top players,” he added. “Of course, we’ll lose games and have the odd disappointing performance, but we learn from that and the aim is for us all to become better players.
“But, there’s no denying that winning trophies is a nice bonus when you are trying to develop and get that winning mentality.”
Bowie’s Scotland call: ‘I’m just pinching myself’
And just as he thought a summer of rest and relaxation was on the cards, Bowie was given his maiden Scotland under-21 call-up and could make his debut when Scot Gemmill’s kids face Northern Ireland in Dumbarton on Wednesday evening.
“I’m incredibly proud to be in the squad — and a little bit stunned, to be honest,” added Bowie.
“I’ve only been in the Scotland under-19 squad once so I never imagined I would be in the under-21s — a good two years ahead of my age group. I’m just pinching myself.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) May 25, 2021
“Shaun Maloney was the guy I looked up to when I was watching Scotland as a kid. He was the man doing the bits of magic, scoring the goals and I’d watch him thinking: “I’d love that to be one day.” Hopefully, this is a step on that journey
“There’s no pressure on me because I’m just one of the younger players in the group. It’s a bonus at the end of the season and I can go, work hard and try to express myself and show what I can do.”