Kyle McClean has returned to St Johnstone from Belfast with two winners’ medals and an appreciation of what it is like to play “real football”.
A half-season loan at Linfield couldn’t have gone any better for the Northern Irishman.
And, as he fights to get into the Saints side that faces his old club in next Saturday’s pre-season friendly, McClean feels ready to join the long list of players who have broken into the first team at McDiarmid Park after being farmed out by manager Tommy Wright.
“Going to Linfield was a great move for me,” he said. “The opportunity to play games every week was what I needed.
“The manager stresses that he wants players to go out on loan, play real football and be in proper dressing-rooms.
“So when he tells you he wants you to go out that’s a good thing because all the players here who have come through into the team have been sent elsewhere first.
“Zander Clark, Jason Kerr, Chris Kane and Callum Hendry have all had to do that and came back better players.
“So it’s a positive sign when he says he’s got a club and he thinks you should give it a go.
“I learned a lot more playing for Linfield than I would have staying in the reserves here.
“Things like how to manage the game and cope with pressure situations. You can’t learn that other than by going through it.”
There will be no lack of experienced Saints midfielders to help McClean develop this season. And the 20-year-old has already benefited from playing alongside veteran Jamie Mulgrew at Windsor Park.
“Playing with Jamie in the middle of the park really helped me grow up,” he said.
“He is a full international who has been at Linfield for 10 years, so he was important for me to listen to every day.
“All the players and the manager David Healy were great with me and I can’t thank them enough for how they looked after me.
“We won the league by 12 points and also lifted the League Cup.
“We lost in another cup final too, so it was a successful season.
“It was really good and at the end of it I’ve come away with two winners’ medals.
“Thankfully I did well enough to get another contract here and now it’s up to me to force my way into the manager’s plans.”
Central midfield is an area of strength for Wright and that increases the importance of making an impression in the two games in Northern Ireland next week.
“Pre-season is a clean slate for everyone so it’s what you do in the next few weeks and months that will determine whether you play or not,” said McClean.
“The Betfred Cup gives everyone the chance to be involved and it will be up to me to grasp my chance.
“With the likes of Murray Davidson, Liam Craig, David Wotherspoon and Ross Callachan in front of me it’s not going to be easy to dislodge them.
“That is the challenge for Ali McCann and I, we have to learn from them as much as can and also try to get into the team.
“That’s the way it is, it’s going to be tough to get a game but it’s a challenge I am looking forward to.”