Muirhead's career built on solid bricks

Friday 14th January 2011

Annan Athletic defender Aaron Muirhead is casting envious eyes down south towards his pal Grant Hanley who is now starring for Blackburn Rovers in the Barclays Premier League.

Aaron MuirheadMuirhead said: “Grant and I grew up together and played at Queen of the South and Crewe Alexandra when we were teenagers. We used to travel to Crewe every weekend and also stayed there during our summer holidays.

“It is great that he has gone on to play for Blackburn Rovers and the cup tie against Queens Park Rangers last Saturday was his fifth game for them.”

The 20-year-old added: “My career has taken a slightly different route but my dream is to be a full-time player as well and that is something that may happen in time for me.”

Muirhead explained the route his career has taken saying: “I was training with Queen of the South from aged 12 right through to their Under 17 squad. I was also playing with Crewe throughout that time as well and I would play with Queens on a Saturday and then head down south to play for Crewe on a Sunday.”

Grant Hanley in action for Scotland U21The legendary figure of Crewe Manager, Dario Gradi, who has been involved at the Gresty Road club for nearly 30 years, was a familiar face to Muirhead who advised: “I got to know Dario well as I would spend school holidays down there training. Grant and I would both go down and Grant of course, is now signed at Blackburn.”

No deal at Crewe was ever offered however, Queen of the South offered the player a deal but it was declined with the Dumfries born player saying: “I could have signed for Queens aged 16 but my Mum and Dad both felt I should stay on at school and finish my fifth year as opposed to leaving with only a few qualifications.

“I did that and then left to take on an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. I only have half a year of that to go before I am qualified so I will have a trade behind me which I would not have if I had gone to Palmerston and not made it.”

Muirhead moved on to another local side as he explained: “I joined Dalbeattie Star after Queens and went straight into their first team aged 17. I made my debut across in Edinburgh in an East of Scotland game but I cannot remember who it was against.

Somerset Park“Star are a good side to go to if you were not going senior and staying in the Dumfries area however, I only stayed there for a year. I then joined Ayr United Under-19’s which was part of their Academy ran by Mark Shanks.”

The move to Somerset Park saw Muirhead change position as he explains: “When I started playing football I was a striker and that was the way it stayed until I was aged 10. I then moved back into central midfield at Queen’s and at Ayr they played me even further back at centre half.

“I stayed there for part of one season and left in January 2009 as I knew I would not be getting offered a contract. I had been doing some extra training at Annan and their Manager Harry Cairney came to see me play a couple of times.

“I got the chance to sign there and that was a better option because there was less travelling involved. I got myself involved in some bits and pieces of first team games before the end of the season as the regular centre half Derek Townsley was injured on a couple of occasions.”

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Muirhead built on that start to become a first team pick as he advised: “At the start of the 2009/10 season I became more of a regular player as we adopted a system where I would be the sweeper in amongst a back three. I felt I did well in my first season as a full professional and I learnt how to use my six foot three inch frame to my benefit. I needed to do that to get used to the slightly more physical side of things compared to Under-19 football.”

Aaron Muirhead in action for Annan AthleticThis season has seen a switch to being an over-lapping right back with Muirhead explaining the move as: “Last season we played a 3-4-3 formation as I mentioned before and occasionally, if I was not sweeper, I will be on the right of the four in midfield.

“This season the Manager has brought in Andy Aitken to play alongside Kevin Neilson and I was moved to right back. I had played there a few times when I was at Dalbeattie so I had some idea of what was required.”

Muirhead and Annan fans are enjoying the switch as he said: “I prefer it as you get on the ball a lot more than you do when you are a centre half. The manager wants me to bomb down the right and John Macbeth to get down the left and we keep an eye on each other to make sure we are both not doing it at the same time.”

Andy Aitken in action for Queen of the SouthThe experienced former Queen of the South and Ayr United defender, Aitken, keeps them both on their toes with Muirhead saying: “Andy keeps us right as well as he talks through games continually. He never shuts up, which is great and he has a lot of experience to pass on when you consider he played in a Scottish Cup Final.”

As well as Aitken, Muirhead does not have far to go in finding advice.

“The Manager was a defender as well,” said Muirhead before adding: “And he talks to you about how to do things and that helps too.”

The youngster is in the fortunate position of being given a measure of security by the Galabank club as he was given a two year contract at the start of the season.

“The Chairman, Henry McClelland, spoke to me about extending my deal and I was more than happy to do so. I am signed until the end of next season which is great as not a lot of players have that.”

Annan Athletic Manager, Harry CairneyThat security has seen Muirhead flourish and his runs down the right flank as well as his ability to attack set-pieces have become part of the Annan armoury this season. Things were coming together nicely with Muirhead saying: “Before the big freeze happened we were playing as well as I have ever seen.

“Up at Brechin in the first Scottish Cup game it was our best performance of the season and it was a real pity that it was not rewarded with a win. We were also unlucky in the replay where we lost a few goals that we should not have. When you consider they are a Second Division side we should be pleased with how well we done.”

It is back to business this weekend for Annan and they face a side they have not beaten in six League games.

Muirhead said: “We have a big game against Elgin this weekend and they have been Annan’s bogey team for a wee while now.”

Despite their record Muirhead will enjoy the contest saying: “I enjoy playing against them as they are a good footballing side and when they beat us up at their place their display of running and movement was probably the best I have seen at this level.”

Craig gunn in action for Elgin CityBoth sides will feel they have a chance of being involved in the promotion Play-Offs however, that is not a surprise in the IRN-BRU SFL Third Division according to Muirhead who said: “There are 5 or 6 teams that will really fancy their chances and Elgin are one of them. They have good strikers with Craig Gunn one of the quickest guys I have ever played against. Paul Millar came on as a substitute and at six foot seven sometimes it is better to let him win the ball and defend the header than try and jump with him. Jason Crooks is also scoring a few goals so we know this is going to be a really tough game.

“I would reckon that near enough everyone in the Third Division has a chance of promotion and we need to bounce back after the Brechin defeat. The League table is going to take a while to settle down as games get played over different dates to get things back up to speed.”

And how about copying Hanley, Muirhead was asked: “My dream is to be a full-time player and that is something that may happen in time. I have nearly served my time as a bricklayer so everyone would be much more relaxed if it happens once I have that behind me.

“Much as I would love to be a full-timer I aim to just keep playing away for Annan and see what happens.”

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