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Highland League could be making of youngsters Ross County have sent on loan, says Malky Mackay

By Andrew Henderson

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Ross County manager Malky Mackay says the loans out of the club this summer have been designed to get youngster playing senior football.

Five prospects have moved from Dingwall to the Highland League on short term deals in the summer window – Adam MacKinnon and Matthew Wright joined Brora Rangers, Ben Williamson signed for Nairn County, Logan Ross went to Lossiemouth and Ryan McLeman became part of a resurgent Clachnacuddin outfit on deadline day.

From his time at the Scottish FA, youth development has been high on Mackay's priority list.

He has previously spoken about the potential of the current crop coming through at the Global Energy Stadium, saying he would be shocked if at least a couple of them did not go on to become regulars in the Staggies' first team.

However, that did not mean they were ready to feature in the senior squad on a regular basis immediately, and so Mackay endeavoured to find opportunities for the promising quintet to play week in, week out.

Adam MacKinnon, now on loan at Brora, was one of several young Staggies to feature against Elgin City in pre-season. Picture: Ken Macpherson
Adam MacKinnon, now on loan at Brora, was one of several young Staggies to feature against Elgin City in pre-season. Picture: Ken Macpherson

Now, he says it is up to them to work hard and get the most out of their time playing football elsewhere to come back to County as better players who are ready for the rigours of the Scottish Premiership.

"In my last job at the Scottish FA, one of the conversations I had regularly with the chairman of the SPFL was about the plan they have got for the X-factor youngsters," Mackay explained.

"There needs to be a map or pathway for young kids at a club to enjoy. When I came in, we had five youngsters who were near enough starters or coming off the bench in our first pre-season game at Elgin, but they should have been nowhere near the first-team squad – they were trying to learn their trade.

"However, great credit to the five youngsters. They have trained hard with me and the men, the first-team squad and the difference in them is night and day. These kids have been thrown in with adults, but they have applied themselves and they have talent.

"The strides they have taken in three months because they have had to train with the first-team and the demands myself and the coaching staff have put on them is really going to stand them in good stead going forward, but there was a point where we needed them to go out on loan.

"It's great we have the Highland League on our doorstep, which is a men's league. At the Scottish FA, I would regularly talk to the clubs about how to try and get youngsters to play against men as quickly as possible, when they are physically ready. It is the best way of making strides of being a man yourself and going back to your club and playing men's football.

"The quicker a youngster embraces leaving the comfort of their club and going somewhere else the better. If they do embrace it, they come on leaps and bounds.

"They will be here for part of the week and be under our control. It's not a case of dumping them and letting them go. We will be monitoring them.

"Those five kids have got a genuine chance of being Ross County players in the future and that's why we've kept training them and drilling them and pushing them hard. It will stand this club in good stead for the future – they will have the chance to pull on a Ross County jersey and move on from here and be successful professionals because of the link and the work we have with the Highland League at the moment."

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