As the holder of Livingston’s No. 9 shirt, young Marc McNulty still remains as grounded as the January frost at the Braidwood Motor Company Stadium.
The Portobello teenager has struck six goals in 20 appearances this season, his first term of continuous first-team involvement. Such an impressive output marks further progress for a player who has packed a lot into his career at the West Lothian club.
The 19-year-old arrived at Livi three years ago and spearheaded the forward line of the under-17 team before graduating to under-19 football and, shortly after his 17th birthday, to the first team, for whom he scored on his debut at Montrose. He has now appeared in all three divisions of the Scottish Football League and played a part, albeit peripheral, in the title-winning Lions teams of the past two seasons.
This campaign, McNulty has achieved a considerable feat in nudging aside Kenny Deuchar, the experienced 6ft 3in striker, to claim a regular start up front alongside Evening News columnist Iain Russell. The pair combined effectively during Livingston’s 2-2 draw at home to Queen of the South at the weekend, after which McNulty, following his man-of-the-match presentation, played down the value of personal accolades and emphasised the importance of his development.
“I thought the last couple of weeks that my performances haven’t been very good but I’ve been scoring,” he told the Evening News. “You’ve got to try and play well and score goals. Some weeks that doesn’t come off – you can be quiet the whole game and get one chance and stick it away. That’s what strikers are there for.
“You’re there to help the team and do what you can if you’re not scoring yourself. It’s always good that other people in the team are scoring too. The gaffer has asked me to do defensive work as well, so hopefully he has been impressed.
“The last two years I’ve been with the under-19s and in and out of the first team, getting five minutes at the end of a game. This is my first season starting, getting a good run in the team and scoring goals, so it’s good.”
McNulty is one of a number of Livingston youngsters being handed a chance to impress at senior level. Manager Gary Bollan can call on a wealth of experience in the aforementioned pair of Deuchar and Russell, Maurice Ross and record appearance holder Liam Fox, pictured left. It is therefore testament to both Bollan’s willingness to blood young talent and the success of the youth programme at the club that homegrown fledglings such as McNulty, David Sinclair, Stefan Scougall and the Jacobs brothers, Keaghan and Kyle, continue to benefit from regular appearances in the first team.
“That’s the good thing at the club,” said McNulty. “You’ve always got to be on your toes. Someone like Deuchs, everyone knows he’s a great striker and will score goals. You’ve got Iain Russell and Rory Boulding as well – they’re all great strikers. So, you’ve got to be doing your best every week to try and get a start.
“At youth level, we had a great team. We were beating teams 14-0 every week. It’s good at the time, but you’re not really progressing much, you’re not really getting a test.
“You come up to the first team, especially at First Division level, and it’s physical, the players are a lot quicker and stronger and you don’t get as much time on the ball. It’s quite a big jump. There are still a lot of young players in this team. The gaffer brought on a couple of experienced players to help the team get along. Everyone around the club is close.”
The positive vibes around Almondvale are clearly felt by Fox, whose appearance against Queens last weekend saw him overtake fellow former Hearts player Roddy McKenzie as Livi’s record appearance holder. Since arriving at the club in 2006, former Jambos youth teamer Fox has played 185 games.
“It’s rare in this day and age, especially with lots of movement of players between clubs and short-term deals,” said midfielder Fox of his record. “I’m delighted to get there and still have a year and a half to go on my contract.
“I’ve seen a lot of players come and go – there’s been a massive turnover in the last six years – so to be there as long as I have is great.”
Fox, who will turn 28 in seven days, predicts a bright future for Livi.
“Consolidating in the First Division is the aim, but maybe we can have a go at promotion next year. That’s the way I’m looking at it.”