Frank Ross’ career should have taken flight with one kick of a football.
His free-kick against Rangers in December 2017, his first Aberdeen goal, should have been the start of an exciting development into a Dons first-team player.
But two-and-a-half years down the line, he has waved goodbye to his boyhood club, after a rotten spell of injuries that kept his time on the pitch to a minimum.
Ross said: “I was injured for about two years – I think I only played three games for the reserves in that two years. I was extremely unlucky with injuries, but I was expecting it, probably since February, not to get anything. But that’s football, you need to move on.”
A debilitating back problem picked up on Scotland under-21 duty in 2018 – on the back of a promising couple of first-team starts – was the start of his problems. He missed the rest of that season and required specialist treatment in London before he was able to return again.
Clear of injury, he returned for the start of last season, with manager Derek McInnes sending him on loan to Ayr United to get game-time and come back to challenge for a first-team spot in January.
But after two substitute appearances in the Betfred Cup, he was out again. This time an ankle injury kept him on the sidelines until January, by which time he pretty much knew his time at Aberdeen was up.
Ross added: “I think the fact I was injured – it was just unlucky that I didn’t get an extension, that made it easier. I’ve been able to plan ahead for a few months now, but it’s just a horrible time to be a free agent.
“There’s hundreds of players on the market. My agent is speaking to a few clubs and hopefully there’ll be some progress soon.
“I’m feeling good. I’ve had a few months now of no niggles, so touch wood I stay that way.”
There’s little question which of his memories stands out. After spending most of his life with the Dons – he reckons he played his first game with Aberdeen at the age of seven – that free-kick against Rangers tops the pile.
“I’ve had so many memories,” said Ross. “But that was probably the best one.
“I think I’d lost the ball and they countered from that and scored. I think it was Josh Windass. I wasn’t annoyed with myself, more that I had to do something to make up for that.
“We got a free-kick just outside the box and the lads told me to go and take it. I can’t really remember the free-kick, I was just so buzzing it went in.
“I had a cross in the last minute that (Adam) Rooney nearly got on the end of, so that would have been a lot better, if we’d managed to get something from the game.”
On the back of that goal, he was sent on loan to Championship side Morton, where he credits manager Jim Duffy with helping improve his game.
A start in the 4-0 demolition of St Mirren in August 2018 was followed by another in the 1-1 draw with Hibernian at Easter Road. That was the last of his 13 appearances for Aberdeen.
The Ellon-born midfielder has seen many faces come and go as he progressed through the age groups. Now he is one of them.
He said: “Going full-time with your mates, having played with them at under-15s and under-16s, was so fun. There’s a lot of stories that I probably can’t tell, but it was good.
“You make so many friends in football, but by the time the season comes to an end, you have to say goodbye to three or four of them. It is quite hard to stay in contact with them and you do see so many new faces come and go in football. You get used to it.”
He knows he is going into a crowded market this summer, with hundreds of players available to clubs that will probably need them come the start of the season.
But at 22, he hopes the injury problems that have blighted his past have paved the way for a brighter future.
Ross added: “I feel like I’m quite fit now, so I’d like to find a club. This is the first time in two years I’ve been properly fit.
“You miss it – when you’re injured and you have to watch the lads go out to training, or on a matchday when you sit and watch, it’s horrible. I just want to play football and enjoy it again.”