You don’t have to be a loan success story to end up with a happy ending at St Johnstone, according to caretaker manager Alec Cleland.
And Callum Hendry is the perfect example of that.
The Perth striker only scored once in League One for Brechin City two seasons ago and even had his temporary deal cut short after he wasn’t getting a regular start under Barry Smith.
But that didn’t stop Hendry forcing his way into Tommy Wright’s plans on his return and becoming Saints’ top marksman in the next campaign.
Cleland has stressed that McDiarmid Park coaches are more interested in the development of their player while he is away rather than the impact he makes.
Cammy Ballantyne, John Robertson, Olly Hamilton and Jordan Northcott all signed new deals with Saints earlier this week.
With a couple of others in the same age-group being released, these four been the ones identified as having the best chance of becoming top team players in Perth.
And Hendry’s back story should be the quartet’s inspiration.
“The important thing is that they improve,” said Cleland. “You have to look a bit deeper with loans.
“It wasn’t a great one for Callum at Brechin. He didn’t score many goals and he didn’t get as much game-time as he wanted.
“He’ll tell you that himself.
“But it has helped show him what it’s like in a first team football environment and prepared him for coming back to us.
“Yes, we’d have liked him to score 15 to 20 goals but it didn’t work out that way. What he has done is go from strength to strength when he returned.
“If the loan doesn’t work it doesn’t mean you’re finished with St Johnstone.
“John Robertson has to have that mindset. We’ve still got high hopes for him. He can look at Callum.”
Centre-forward Robertson was given a taste of first team football with Saints as a 16-year-old. Last season he was farmed out to Cove Rangers, where he made 19 appearances, scoring twice.
Versatile attacker Olly Hamilton, also 18, got even more game-time with the club at the other end of League Two, Brechin City. He scored two doubles in his 31 matches.
Cammy Ballantyne, a midfielder, is a couple of years older and was highly rated by Stewart Petrie when he was at Montrose.
Jordan Northcott, 18, is the least experienced of the four, having only played up front for BSC Glasgow on a handful of occasions.
“Ballantyne is the one who has probably benefitted the most from going out on loan,” said Cleland. “He did very well at Montrose.
“John Robertson didn’t get as much game-time as he would have wanted at Cove but there was a lot of competition with experienced players.
“Olly played a lot of games at Brechin. Northcott is a bit younger.
“A couple of them are local – Hamilton and Northcott – which I feel is important. It helps give the club an identity. The fans can see that we’re looking for the best local players as well as looking east and west.”
The list of Saints players who have used loan spells to their advantage in recent years is a long one. Stevie May, Zander Clark, Jason Kerr, Liam Gordon and Ali McCann are all on it.
“Since I’ve been here I’d say that 90% of our loans have been successful,” said Cleland.
“Tommy didn’t get the credit for putting the young players in at the right time. You have to judge when it’s best to put them on loan and when it’s best to introduce them into the first team.
“I think we’ve done that well over the years.”
There is uncertainty at every turn in Scottish football just now. But there is an expectation that clubs will operate with reduced squads.
And that may give young players on the fringes their big chance earlier than would have been thought pre-coronavirus.
Cleland said: “Sometimes difficult times present an opportunity.
“The way things are going, you can see clubs running with smaller squads which will give opportunities to younger players that they might otherwise not have got.”