Paddy Boyle saw Scott McKenna struggling at Ayr United – but was never in any doubt the defender would make it at Aberdeen.
Over the last two-and-a-half years McKenna has established himself as a Scotland international and the Dons’ prize asset.
But his path to stardom wasn’t always straightforward. In November 2016, he joined Championship strugglers Ayr on loan.
The 23-year-old didn’t hit the heights many had hoped during his stint at Somerset Park with his final appearance for the Honest Men ending with a straight red card in a Scottish Cup quarter-final against Hibs in March 2017.
Despite his struggles, Peterhead left-back Boyle – who played alongside McKenna at Ayr – could see he had talent.
The 33-year-old said: “As a team we were under pressure, particularly defensively, and Scott was a young player coming in and it was difficult.
“He was playing at a good standard in a team that was struggling and he didn’t play as much as he would have liked.
“But that’s part of the learning curve, especially for a young player and it either makes you or breaks you.
“It doesn’t surprise me how Scott has done since and he’ll back me up on what I’m about to say next.
“He hadn’t played for two weeks and I pulled him one night after training.
“Two years before at Airdrieonians, I’d played alongside Liam Lindsay who came on loan from Partick Thistle.
“I just said to Scott he should be embarrassed not to be playing in this Ayr United team.
“I told him I’d played with Liam Lindsay and that the only difference between him and Liam was that Liam had more confidence at that time.
“For me that was the only difference – Scott had the same physique, he was left-footed, he had power and he’s probably quicker than Liam as well.
“At that time Liam Lindsay was playing in the Scottish Premiership and that summer he moved down to England (to Barnsley before a move to Stoke last year).
“I said to Scott he should be playing every week for Ayr and playing beyond that level after that.
“So it hasn’t surprised me with how well he’s done for Aberdeen and playing for Scotland because he’s got all the attributes.
“Is he a little bit raw at times? Yes, but if he was class on the ball he’d be playing central midfield – as would I and lots of other defenders if we were better on the ball.
“It doesn’t surprise me with how well he’s done, the difference between levels isn’t usually a lot when it comes to ability.
“Physicality can be a factor, but your mentality decides what level you play at.
“Scott had a bad experience at Ayr because he should have been playing and in the end his loan was cut short and he was away with three games to go.
“But it’s worked out well for him, he probably had a good look at himself and hasn’t really looked back since.”
Boyle hopes his words of encouragement helped give McKenna some confidence and belief, he also reckons his old team mate will earn a big move from Aberdeen to England before too long.
Boyle added: “Whether what I said made any difference or not is up to Scott.
“But as a senior player at Ayr I felt it was my responsibility to do something because I was watching a player with all the attributes that was struggling.
“I said it hoping it might have a lasting impact because you always know you’re own ability, hopefully those words did help and he recognised the ability he had.
“Maybe it gave him the belief – as soon as he played for Aberdeen I texted him and the same when he made his Scotland debut and I just said ‘well done and that’s where you should be.’
“I said when he got his first Scotland cap that it should be the first of many. In Scotland we’re not blessed with loads of talented players so Scott should be part of the Scotland set-up for years to come and I’m sure he will be.
“Whether he can play in the English Premier League remains to be seen, but can he play in the Championship? Absolutely. He’s got the physicality and all the other attributes and there’s no reason why he can’t make a successful career for himself in England.
“He’s doing great at Aberdeen, but I do see him moving on at some point.”