Rising Aberdeen left-back Jack MacKenzie has thanked internationals Andy Considine and Jonny Hayes for helping him realise his first-team dream.
The defender made his first-team debut in March and admits that, at 21 years old, he had to remain patient for that breakthrough.
When that opportunity arrived, under interim manager Paul Sheerin, the Pittodrie Youth Academy graduate grabbed it and has become a regular starter under new manager Stephen Glass.
MacKenzie has now forced his way into contention to retain that position in Glass’ reconstructed squad next season.
The former Dons Under-21 captain insists the help of Considine and Hayes in training, and during games, has been invaluable in his rise.
MacKenzie said: “Andy and Jonny have both played at left-back and they have helped me so much in training and advised me what to do.
“It has been really beneficial to have those players around as they have both helped me massively.”
Scotland international Considine, 34, has been capped three times by his country, while fellow veteran Hayes, 33, has played four times for Republic of Ireland.
MacKenzie made his Dons debut when pitched in from the start by interim boss Sheerin in a 1-0 defeat at Dundee United on March 21, the first match since the exit of former manager Derek McInnes after nearly eight years at the helm.
The full-back was cup-tied for the Scottish Cup games against Dundee United, Livingston and Dumbarton, having played in the tournament earlier in the season during a loan spell with League One Forfar Athletic.
However, MacKenzie has started three of the four Premiership games since manager Glass’ arrival at the club in early April.
A ‘dream’ to play alongside Considine
Throughout those matches, Considine has played in the left-sided centre-back role alongside left-back MacKenzie in a defensive back four under the new gaffer.
The Scotland cap, who missed out on selection to Steve Clarke’s 26-man Euro 2020 squad, has also given valuable advice to MacKenzie during games.
The latter said: “It’s a dream to play alongside Andy, especially in those first few games, because he’s been there and done it.
“He’s very experienced so he was able to give me good pointers.
“Andy has helped me a lot since I came in full-time.”
Manager Glass praised MacKenzie for his performance in restricting the influence of Australian international winger Martin Boyle in the recent 1-0 loss to Hibs at Pittodrie.
The defender also started the 4-0 loss to Premiership champions Rangers at Ibrox on the final day of the season.
In the build up to Rangers’ first two goals, the ball deflected off MacKenzie, but the left-back was not culpable for those goals.
Having built starting momentum within Glass’ starting XI, MacKenzie admits the campaign ended at the wrong time for him personally.
He wanted more first team action.
Focused on making an impact during pre-season
Now he is determined to return for pre-season training in the third week of June fired up and ready for a fight to retain his starting spot ahead of the season opener in the Uefa Conference League second qualifying round on Thursday July 22.
He said: “I had to wait my time as I am 21 now.
“I was just delighted to get the opportunity given to me by Paul and Barry (Robson)
“I have loved every minute of it and just want more.
“The season probably ended at the wrong time for me.
“The manager has given me the opportunity and now it is up to me to make sure I perform and stay in the team.
“I want to be playing against the best players in the country.”
Mackenzie spent the first half of the season on loan at League One Forfar, starting 14 games, including a 1-0 League Cup loss to Hibs.
He was initially scheduled to go on loan to Atlanta United 2, the B team of the MLS side, last March.
However, the loan to Aberdeen’s strategic partner club fell through due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
When football finally returned, MacKenzie dropped into the third tier of Scottish football with Forfar, for six months that were valuable to his development.
He said: “Obviously the quality and the tempo are higher in the Premiership.
“However, I was impressed with the standard of League One and all the teams.
“Going there stood me in good stead for playing for Aberdeen.”
MacKenzie’s first team breakthrough was quickly followed by a two-year contract extension which he penned in late March, tying him to the club until summer 2023.
Another rising full-back Calvin Ramsay, 17, also made his debut first team start this year when playing, and impressing, in the 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat of Dumbarton.
Ramsay was also secured on a long-term contract extension in January until summer 2024.
MacKenzie: “There are a lot of great young players at the club and the ones who have come into the first team have done well.
“Calvin has come in and did well, while Dean Campbell has played a lot of games.”