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Connor McLennan | Red Matchday Feature

January 7, 2019 3:06 pm Author: Malcolm Panton (Red Matchday Editor)

 

Connor spoke to the red matchday editor last month about his career to date.

Young footballers often get accused of having “too much, too young” but as supporters, we are more likely to be guilty of expecting “too much, too soon” from youngsters who get an early taste of the spotlight.

If a fresh, teenage face gets a chance in the team, from then on we are expecting the immediate emergence of a new Willie Miller, Joe Harper, Gordon Strachan. Every week, the calls for the kid to start get ever more strident and harder to resist, but, except in the very rarest of cases, resisted they have to be for top flight men’s football is a raw, unforgiving environment that needs physical and mental strength to go with simple talent, and they are attributes that tend to come only with age. Plenty of highly promising kids have fallen by the wayside after being exposed to too many games early on.

Connor McLennan understands what it’s like to be in the goldfish bowl having popped up into the first team at 16, making his debut in April 2016 as a late sub as the Dons went down to defeat at St Johnstone. In his case though, those early expectations have been dampened down by injury issues, something that might yet prove to have been a blessing in disguise.

“I was out of the picture for a while with my injuries. I had a number of recurring injuries which I could not get sorted. It’s been a very frustrating couple of years for me as a result. I have just been concentrating on trying to get my injury problems sorted and credit to the physios and the sport science guys for helping me as much as they did.

“The problem was mainly my hamstrings, I had a problem with both of them and also my groins as well. It ended up that I got a scan on my back, so we think all the problems I had with my legs stemmed from a nerve problem in my back. I had an injection a couple of months ago during pre-season and, touch wood, that seems to have solved all the problems.

“It was tough because we did not know what the problem was, so we did not know how long I would be out for. I was not like a normal long term injury when you have a plan laid out for me and you when you will be back playing again. I had no idea when I would be back playing again, so mentally it was quite hard to deal with. It was one step forward and two steps back all the time, really tough to deal with. When you are returning from an injury you need to feel that you are not going to break down again.

“I am quite a positive guy though. I always knew that once I did get fully fit and got a run of games, I could make an impact. That kept me going. I have 100% faith in the physios here, so I would just listen to them and do what they told me. We are fortunate to have the best medical team here.”

Proof of football’s knack for dishing out irony came of course, at Hampden, when it was that worrying injury to Gary Mackay-Steven that ushered Connor onto the pitch in the League Cup final, a game in which he acquitted himself well.

“As soon as Gaz went down, I got told to warm up, but straight away, you could tell it wasn’t a good situation and we’d have to make the change. The manager called me over and told me I was going on and gave me the instructions for the game. He was really encouraging, he told me that I was more than ready for the chance and to go and grab it.

“I’m lucky, I don’t really suffer with nerves, I just wanted to get out there and get on with it, playing football is what I do, so why be nervous about it?

“Playing in a cup final is a dream, especially for the club I’ve supported all my life, and although the result was very disappointing, it was a great occasion for me personally. It was my dad’s birthday, he was at the game, so it was a nice present for him! It’s just a shame we couldn’t get him the win, but having had a taste of it, it just makes me more determined to get back to Hampden again and be on a winning team”.

In between his own early injuries at Pittodrie, Connor got the opportunity to get some game time in two separate loan spells at Brechin, a toughening up process that has done him the world of good.

“The time I had out on loan was so beneficial. Although things did not go to plan in the Championship with them, I really benefited from playing with some really good pros and playing week in week out. I learned so much from that. I then took that knowledge into the u20s when I came back from my loan spell and hopefully I can put it into practice in the first team.

“Every week, I got more confident playing against teams at that level. You feel like you belong there and you can hold your own. Each week you become mentally stronger. I came back to Pittodrie a far more confident player and ready to try and push myself forward.

“When I came back in January this year, the U20s were going well, fighting on both fronts last season and eventually reaching the Youth Cup final at Hampden against Hibernian. McLennan opened the scoring with a tremendous solo effort, but the team were unable to hold on and Hibs ran out 3-1 winners.

“If I had to pick my top goal, my effort in the SFA Youth Cup final would be up there. I scored a good goal for Brechin at Dunfermline. That was quite similar to my effort against St Mirren, a similar finish. So along with my first goal for Aberdeen, they would be the three that are in my head. I have scored some good ones for the U20s over the years as well. It is a good thing to have in your locker, the ability to score goals out of nothing, but whether it is from 30 yards or a tap in, they all count.

“All the young players, all we can do is take our chance when get it. We are all pushing each other so we can take our chance when we get it in the first team. Hopefully I did that against St Mirren and I will get many more opportunities in the future.

“Since I came in full time when I was 16, Scott McKenna has always been in the changing room, Scott Wright has been there, Frank and Bruce and they give you an idea of what is possible, something to aim for. When you are younger and see them getting a chance and going away on the European trips, it pushes you on. They also help you because they can pass on their experiences.

“Bruce and I are very competitive! We are always competing in training when it comes to shooting drills. We hate losing at anything! But we are great friends and it’s just our way of pushing each other on. We both want to make an impact when we get a chance and we both want each other to do well.

“I know what is expected of me if I am going to push for a regular place in the side. In training, it is about making a good impression and going about my business the right way and having the correct attitude. The management team have to have confidence it us when we are put in the team, so it is up to us to provide them with that confidence by the way we perform in training and then delivering on the pitch if we get in the first team.

“The St Mirren goal was the stuff of dreams. You can’t really explain it or put the feeling into words. As a young boy, I used to come and the watch the team but never thought it would be me out there celebrating a goal.

“I can’t remember too much about it to honest as I was lying on the ground and there was a defender blocking me. It was still a great feeling and it was great looking at the photos of the goal, seeing the pictures of the crowd in the background. It used to be me sitting amongst them, so that was a bit surreal.

“I’m an Aberdeen fan. My whole family are fans. I came to a good few games when I was younger. Obviously I was playing football on a Saturday so I did not have a season ticket, but I tried to get to as many games as I could. I remember watching strikers like Scott Vernon. That was the period I was coming to games. Quite a few of the boys I watched were in the first team dressing room when I signed full time. A few of them still are! It’s weird.”

The academy graduate has been one of the most promising players to play for Paul Sheerin’s U20s team in the last few seasons. An attack-minded player, Connor can play on either wing or upfront and possesses great close control and speed.

“I’m a striker but can also play out wide. It is a little bit easier playing in a wide position because you don’t have your back to the game most of the time. It is easier to get on the ball, but I am comfortable playing both positions.”

International recognition has followed his chance at Pittodrie, Connor recently called up to Scott Gemmill’s U20 squad, which will go on to form a new look U21 side next year.

“I was called up to the Scotland U19s once, and before then, I was involved with all the younger age groups, 16s and 17s, and played in the Victory Shield. I am always pleased to be called up and a bit surprised to be honest. It wasn’t something that had crossed my mind, but I was delighted to be involved again at international level.

“The number of players we had away during the last international break highlights the quality and strength we have within the squad at the club at the moment. There is a really good mix between young and experienced players and that is going to be so important as the season goes on.

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