Former Junior player Michael McKenna is determined to make the most of a one-year deal with Livingston, having once quit football for THREE years.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who was plucked from Musselburgh Athletic, appeared to have given up any hope of making his way in the professional game after bringing his career to a halt as a teenager.
But rekindling his passion with “Mussy”, where he recaptured his ability to produce from the right flank, eventually led to Lions manager John McGlynn recruiting him last month ahead of the forthcoming Championship campaign.
“I’ve been a late developer,” admits, McKenna, who scored 17 goals for the Olivebank side last season.
“I stopped playing football between the ages of 16 and 19 as I didn’t really enjoy it, but I came back to Musselburgh just before I turned 20 and felt like a new player.
“My physique was different and I was faster and fitter. I was just looking to play for Musselburgh in the first year after coming back but it was in my second season where I got my call-up to the Scotland Juniors and that’s when people started to take notice.
“Before I knew it I had a few teams chapping at the door – East Fife, Berwick and Dunfermline were all interested but John had helped out at Musselburgh when he lost his job at Hearts and his training was brilliant and really enjoyable. That helped make my mind up I wanted to go there.”
McKenna could have been a Livingston player in January after spending a couple of weeks training at the Energy Assests Arena, but any move failed to materialise with McGlynn restricted in what he could do in the transfer market, although a summer move was always likely to resurface.
“I was there in January, he explained. “I was an electrician but I left my job that month and wasn’t due to start my new one until February, so I went to Livingston and trained there for a few weeks.
“I did pretty well and played in a couple of reserve matches and scored. It was then I started thinking that I might actually get a contract out of this!
“The manager said to me on the last day of the January transfer window that he wanted to do a deal, but because he didn’t have his budget for the new year, he couldn’t. But he came to watch the last game I played with Musselburgh at the end of last season and offered me a deal pretty much there and then.”
McGlynn has enjoyed a close affiliation with Musselburgh Athletic. his nephew David is the head coach, brother Charlie the chairman and sister-in-law May the match secretary. But McKenna admits he will also have his own family firmly in mind as he hopes to cement his place in Livingston’s starting XI for the league opener against Hibs at Easter Road.
He said: “I don’t know if it has sunk in yet. I think when we play Hibs on the first day of the season, it will all start to feel real. A lot of my family are Hibs fans, so they’re really excited about it and they’ll be there. But hopefully they will be in the Livingston end for this one!
“John said when I signed that it’s not an overnight process. I’ve never been full-time in my career but he sees the potential in me.
“I’ve fitted in well with the new surroundings and the players and the staff have all been really good to me. But I think it’s just like a move anywhere, it’s all about having the confidence to just be yourself. You can’t be afraid going into a new workplace.
“I’ve already scored my first goal against Falkirk at Ainslie Park a couple of weeks ago and I hope to be in the manager’s starting plans for the first game of the league season at Hibs.”
McGlynn, himself, has no qualms about McKenna making the grade as a professional footballer and without wanting to apply too much pressure on the youngster’s shoulders, he has every faith his decision to recruit a player from the Junior leagues will be vindicated.
“I’ve known and watched Musselburgh for a number of years and I had marked Michael as what I would call a late developer,” McGlynn said. “The last two or three years he just sprouted up and became quicker and stronger. He works exceptionally hard and is a very good football player. We were very close to signing him in January but we’ve got him now and although it’s a very steep step up, I’m very confident that he’s going to rise to the challenge.”