Nathan Cooney beams with pride as he recounts how a swathe of his academy pals have made their mark in the Dundee United first-team.
Lewis Neilson turning in an imposing, fearless display against Celtic; Logan Chalmers having a stormer in a 0-0 draw with Aberdeen before a galling injury ended his season; Chris Mochrie becoming United’s youngest-ever player at 16 years and 27 days. The inspiration is there.
United have given senior debuts to five home-grown graduates this term – more than any other side in the Scottish Premiership – and Academy director Andy Goldie has been open about his desire to craft Champions League quality talents.
Scotland often seems to have cynicism in its psyche, ensuring many will scoff at grandiose proclamations, yet Cooney is adamant such faith in youth development means there has never been a better time to be on the books at Tannadice.
And the 19-year-old intends to use a surprise loan stint with Raith Rovers to underline his own promise as he seeks to join the swelling ranks of youngsters in Micky Mellon’s senior set-up next term.
“There are a lot of coaches around Dundee United putting a lot of focus into the academy side of things,” says Cooney. “There is a lot of help and guidance.
“You only need to look at the number of players who have made their debuts this season. It is a club that is trying to shape its future based on a strong academy and that can only be positive.
Most youngsters will be looking at League 2 or League 1, but to be involved with a team looking towards the Premiership is unbelievable
“It’s a really exciting time to be a young player there and is always fantastic to see your pals and teammates making their debuts – that’s the aim for us all.
“The guys at United have told me to enjoy it, take it all in and really soak up the experience – because this is a really high level. Joining a team at the top end of the Championship; the standards are high, there are different styles of play and some top professionals to work with.
“It’s all about winning at adult level. That’s all that matters in the competitive game. It’s a very different pressure to academy football, reserves or under-23s.”
Cooney, who was among several precocious kids who lined up against Sheffield United in a friendly at the start of the campaign, joined Rovers at the end of March as John McGlynn sought to mitigate the potential absence of Iain Davidson following a recent red card against Inverness and subsequent misconduct charge.
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It was a whirlwind 24 hours for Cooney, who was resigned to remaining in the United youth ranks for the remainder of the season or – at best – sent out on loan to League 1 or League 2.
Instead, he will now be a part of a bona fide promotion push with the side currently second in the Championship.
After making his debut as a substitute in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Arbroath, he said: “I was a bit surprised to get this chance.
“It was getting quite late in the season and I was wondering if I would get that chance to go out on loan. Then it seemed to happen in the matter of a day! It was just immediately sorted. It was a bit weird, but exciting.
“All I can hope for is experience, minutes and to play a part in these huge games Raith have coming up. The Queen of the South game is huge for our season, and trying to cement this playoff place, so we’ll look for the right response after Saturday.
“It’s brilliant to be even thinking about a playoff run. A never dreamed I would be part of that a couple of weeks ago, especially at this high a level. Most youngsters will be looking at League 2 or League 1, but to be involved with a team looking towards the Premiership is unbelievable.”
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Albeit thrilled to make his first appearance for Rovers, Cooney’s endured a bruising introduction to the Championship as Arbroath fought from 2-0 down to claim a share of the spoils at Stark’s Park. He intends to use that as a learning curve ahead of Tuesday’s fixture at Queen of the South.
He added: “I’m here to experience minutes in adult football. That’s invaluable experience for me. Playing; being around the matchday squad, it’s just a chance to grow and improve. Even Saturday was character building. You learn how to deal with set-backs and to take challenges as they come.”