Hibs kid Sean Mackie puts his sudden first-team breakthrough to swapping the bowling green for the gym.
The youngster used to spend his Sunday afternoons pursuing his favourite past-time until a few words from boss Neil Lennon resulted in him pumping iron instead.
Now Mackie has gone from a five-minute cameo at the end of a game at Pittodrie into 45 minutes against Celtic and, now, a first start in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Pitched in as Lennon rang the changes for the visit of Livingston – Hibs’ third match in just eight days and hard on the heels of back-to-back games against both sides of the Old Firm – Mackie’s afternoon was only spoiled by the fact he and his team-mates had to settle for a point.
A goal down after a simple ball through the middle allowed Livingston striker Ryan Hardie to claim his fourth goal in three games as he chipped home goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, Hibs then suffered a setback as Flo Kamberi’s penalty was parried by Liam Kelly only for defender Ryan Porteous to save the day with a diving header.
“We did well to still get a point out of it,” admitted the 20-year-old. “But I thought we were the dominant team and were unlucky to drop two points.
“I didn’t get told until just before the game that I was going to start but it was good to get 90 minutes under my belt. I was really looking forward to getting on the park again after the 45 minutes against Celtic. I just wanted to build on that and do well.
“The way I played against Celtic, a big club like that, was a boost for my confidence. I did well in the 45 minutes I played.
“It has been frustrating waiting for my chance. Sometimes you are close then you fade away again. But then you come back. I have been too hard on myself recently, the gaffer was right about that. But I think I deserved my chance.”
Mackie operated as a wing back on the left as Lennon opted for a 3-5-2 formation, a decision which resulted in Hibs’ longest-serving player, Lewis Stevenson, spending the match watching from the bench but, he revealed, his more experienced team-mate had been of great support.
He said: “Lewis was thrown in when he was young so he knows from experience what it is like and he can help the young boys out. He was good about it. Even when I was starting this one, he was telling me to relax. He was giving me encouragement and advice. He has been playing for years now so it’s really good to have someone with that much experience helping you out. He is good with the young lads coming through.”
Now Mackie has his fingers crossed that he’ll keep his place for Wednesday’s visit to Ibrox but, he conceded, Lennon is likely to restore the likes of Stevenson to his starting line-up.
He said: “I don’t know the if the gaffer will change it. He probably will, but I feel I could cope with it. I felt I did okay against Livingston although I could have made more of an impact in the second half.”
Mackie has another year after this season to run on his contract and he is determined to make the most of the opportunities he is enjoying.
He said: “This is a big year. I need to do well because I would like another contract. But I will take it as it comes and because I have another year I’m not too worried.”
To that end, revealed Mackie, he’s curtailed his visits to Tranent Bowling Club. “I didn’t think it was that bad but the gaffer made his point clear. He said I was playing bowls a bit too much and he wants me to stick to the football.
“I play with Tranent and I was alright but probably not the best. I started playing a few years ago and it was just a hobby, something to do away from football, something to help take my mind off football.
“My brother plays and I used to go and watch him. One day someone asked it I wanted a shot and I thought ‘this is not bad actually’. After that I just started getting more and more into it. I just got into it, obviously a bit too much so I will definitely stick to the football now.”
Not surprisingly, Mackie admitted to having had to take some good-natured banter from the rest of the dressing room when they learned he’d rather go bowling than pursue the more usual footballers’ past-time of golf.
He said: “Nobody else plays, just me. I did get slated to start off with but that has died down a bit now.
“I can’t play golf, I’m not very good at it. There’s actually a lot of young boys who play bowls. It’s not what people think. I first thought it was an older man’s game but the amount of young boys that play is incredible.
“There are loads of young boys. It is alright and a couple of my mates play as well so we just have a laugh and it takes my mind off the football.”