Recently recruited Hamilton Academical striker Darian MacKinnon has taken a few steps along the way of the football ladder to get to New Douglas Park and now that he is a full-time player, he is very much in the mood to leave a mark.
MacKinnon said: “I had the chance when I was young to go and play with the youth sides of senior clubs but I was always playing with good amateur teams when I was younger with boys I knew well and that was more important to me. I was with Dumbarton United and Dumbarton Harp in my home town before moving to play Under-21 football with St. Thomas’ in Yoker.
“I then moved on to St. Patrick’s Athletic, who are a top amateur side in Dumbarton, and we won the West of Scotland Cup and the League as well during my time there.”
St. Pats also reached the Semi-Final of the Scottish Amateur Cup in April, 2008 and they were denied a place in the Final at Hampden by a Hampden XI representing Queen’s Park which included the blossoming talent of Stephen Saunders, who has gone on to play for Motherwell and Scotland, as well as Barry Douglas, who is now at Dundee United.
Douglas scored that evening with MacKinnon saying: “I was not aware those guys were in the team that we played. I just remember that they had some decent players and we lost at Kirkintilloch Rob Roy’s Adamslie Park. We had good players as well and one of them, Anthony McGrogan, signed for Queen’s Park shortly afterwards and he made a few first team appearances before returning to St. Pats the following year.”
MacKinnon did make it to play in the National Stadium the following season when he was selected from the ranks of thousands of amateur players to play for Scotland’s Amateur select side to face Queen’s Park in a one-off game to mark the Centenary of The Scottish Amateur Football Association being formed.
He starred for the select although they tasted defeat with MacKinnon saying: “I earned the Man of the Match Award in that game even though we lost 1-0. It was a great experience against a team that simply kept the ball really well and made us chase about after them.
"To be honest, I am not sure why I won the award as they were pretty much on top but it was a great experience.”
Despite his success at amateur level, senior scouts had still not picked up on MacKinnon however, in the spring of 2010, he got the chance to take another step up in his football journey by joining Junior side Clydebank.
The Bankies were formed in 2003 by supporters of the former Scottish Football League club that bore the town’s name from 1931 to 2002 and they were on a journey of their own into the top flight of the Junior game in the West Region.
MacKinnon said: “They were only 10 minutes away from me which helped make it an easy decision. Also, because of the history of the club, they have a very strong mentality about doing things right. I went there as an attacking midfielder in May, 2010 and scored a few goals and was asked to stay on.
“I stayed there for the next two seasons and I really enjoyed it as we were promoted to the top division and as well as winning the Central League Cup a couple of times, it toughened me up as a player. I learnt a lot about the game and I was not really thinking of leaving but joining Hamilton Accies was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I was actually quite sad to leave but to finally get a chance in the senior ranks is brilliant.”
Other players could emerge from the Juniors with MacKinnon saying: “There are a good number of guys in the Juniors that could make the step up as they are good footballers. You have Carlo Monti playing at Pollok and not that long ago he was with Celtic and Morton. I am amazed no one has taken a chance on him again.”
MacKinnon had averaged almost a goal every two games for the Bankies during his time there and that form was prompting visits to see him play by several club scouts as last season drew to a close.
“I was aware of interest in our final games as the newspapers said a few things and rumours were getting stronger,” said MacKinnon before adding, “But then things would go quiet. I was quite relaxed about everything as I had scored 27 goals which was a reasonable return and was enjoying myself.
“It was a scoring record I was proud of but I never set myself a target as that can lead to you doing daft things like going for goal yourself when you should be passing to a team-mate who is in a better position.”
Hamilton became quite regular visitors at the end of last season but the trial had appeared to go cold at one stage with MacKinnon saying: “Clydebank had told me that Accies had been in touch and were keen on signing me but then I heard nothing for a few weeks. Then out of the blue, I got a call from the Manager, Budgie McGhie, to get ready as they wanted to hold signing talks which was great news.
“I did not need to go on trial or anything like that as I had just to meet their Director, Allan McGonigal, and Manager, Billy Reid, and take things from there.”
It was a short summer for MacKinnon who advised: “The Junior season had finished in June so after the smallest of breaks, I joined Hamilton’s pre-season training. I was two or three weeks late compared to the other players and it has been a tough shift to get my fitness levels up to the standard required. I thought I was fit when I was at Clydebank but that is nothing compared to the level I need to get to now.”
MacKinnon is catching up as he explains: “I have now played in two Under-20 games and I now have a senior career of 25 minutes from three substitute appearances. I got two minutes against Airdrie in The Ramsdens Cup, 10 minutes against Annan in The Scottish Communities League Cup and 13 minutes against Raith Rovers last weekend in the First Division.”
The appearance against Annan brought a first senior goal with MacKinnon saying: “That was a really important goal from me as it has got me off and running in the senior ranks. I know that one of the reasons that I am on the bench is that I am not as fit as the rest of the guys yet but I am getting there.
“It is a different level of fitness I need now but I am here, I have made the bench, I have got on the park and I have scored a goal. That is not a bad start and I am aiming to do more.”