Stirling Albion’s surge to the top of League Two is underpinned by nine goals in 11 games from on-loan Hearts winger Callumn Morrison.
The 18-year-old is defying his tender years with standout performances against seasoned professionals at Forthbank. It is no surprise manager Dave Mackay already wants to extend that loan agreement.
The Riccarton academy pupil endured a frustrating loan period at Stirling last season due to injuries but is making up for lost time. He is rampaging to his full potential each week whilst learning how to compete in proper men’s football.
Morrison’s prosperity is helping Mackay, St Johnstone’s 2014 Scottish Cup-winning captain, enjoy a fruitful start to his managerial career. He plans to approach Hearts before the loan ends in January to ask to keep Morrison until next summer. Quite simply, the teenager has been that good.
“Callumn has had a fantastic start and he’s adding goals to his game now,” Mackay told the Evening News. “He was creating chances and was a constant threat but now he’s scoring himself as well, which is brilliant.
“I was very keen to get him back on loan. He did really well when I came in last year, then he got a bad injury and was out for three or four months. He came back for the final few games of the season and what a difference in him. I was desperate to get him back this year because he is somebody who is just going to continually improve.
“I knew he wouldn’t be near the Hearts first team yet. I thought it would be beneficial for him to come here and play every week with us. The way I wanted to play was with a bit of pace in the team and play attacking football, which would really suit him.
“The one thing which sticks out about Callumn is his attitude. It’s absolutely spot-on. Sometimes you get loan players who maybe think: ‘Why am I playing at this level, coming here to train on a Tuesday and Thursday night?’ Not once would you get any moans from Callumn.
“At times, he’s done double sessions with Hearts during the day and asked if he can come in and train with us at night. Sometimes you have to tell him to take a wee step back and relax. He’s just that type of boy. I can imagine him being out playing football with his mates at night. He just loves the game.”
Morrison’s energy alongside experienced pros like Peter MacDonald and Darren Smith has prompted fleeting thoughts of a title challenge in Stirling. When Mackay took charge just ten months ago, they sat just three points off the bottom of League Two and in danger of losing their SPFL status.
“Even in our training, Callumn actually lifts the tempo of it with the way he plays and presses people,” added Mackay. “He’s just a joy to work with. He’s a hardy little boy. He likes a tackle. He gets kicked up and down the place and he just bounces up and gets on with it. His attitude is phenomenal.
“We like our wide players bombing on but he does a real shift for us defensively as well. He’s fit enough to get up and down the pitch for the full game.”
Mackay hopes the level of competition at Hearts can work in his favour. Morrison isn’t expected to be ready for a first-team breakthrough in Edinburgh until next season, therefore an extended stay in the fourth tier of Scottish football could be more useful.
“I’ve spoken to the Hearts coaches Andy Kirk and Jon Daly about him and I know they watch Callumn regularly. We’ve got him until January and hopefully we can extend that. He’s playing every week, scoring goals and enjoying his football. We’ll speak to Hearts nearer the time.
“He’s still learning and he’s still a young boy. I don’t think he is quite ready yet to play first-team football in the Premiership. I think he will be in time, but I think Hearts will realise as well that it’s maybe better to leave him out on loan for the full season. He’s playing, scoring, learning and he still plays for their Under-20s. They keep an eye on him because he’s in there training full-time.
“Hopefully they see it that way too and we can manage to extend the loan till the end of the season. It would be great for him to go back to Hearts with a league winner’s medal.”
Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, strongly believes loaning young players to lower-league clubs accelerates their development.
“It’s part of our development process when they get to a point where the Under-20s doesn’t do them a lot of good,” he explained. “We technically have the younger ones in the Under-20s and try to push the older ones out on loan. That’s something we’ll continue to do.
“It’s worked well for Callumn. He’s playing in the bottom league but the fact is he’s out playing against men and learning how to deal with it. That’s quite a difficult thing at the point when kids need to cross over from academy football to real football, as we call it.
“I’ve been really pleased with him. We get him watched every week. He’s been doing well, he’s scoring goals and he’s playing with an enthusiasm you would expect from a young guy getting his first real taste of men’s football.”