Jackson Irvine is determined to hit the ground running at Kilmarnock and quickly prove he can handle life at the top level.
The 20-year-old has joined on loan from Celtic for six months with the aim of securing plenty of first-team football. And the versatile Australian – who can play in defence or midfield – has told new manager Allan Johnston he is ready, willing and able to be pitched straight into today’s Scottish Premiership game against St Mirren.
Irvine said: “It’s a great opportunity for me to get some first-team experience here and hopefully get a regular start in a first team. Hopefully I can build on the experience and take it back with me and further my career. It will enable me to progress.
“You can learn a lot in youth games and things like that but once you get to a certain point, I think you need to test yourself physically against men every week. The thing I’m most looking forward to is pushing myself and seeing how far I can take it at this level.
“I’m 100 per cent ready for this weekend if called upon. To try to get into the team as quickly as possible is essential and also to get a good run of games. If I can step in straightaway and keep my position in the team, it would be great for me.”
Irvine’s loan spell at Rugby Park comes with the full backing of Celtic manager Neil Lennon. The youngster added: “We had a bit of a debate about what position he thinks is best for me, whether I’m a centre-back or a central midfielder. But he says either way the most important thing is that I am playing. Hopefully I can get a good chance to play here regularly.”
Irvine temporarily signed off at Celtic in style with an appearance against Liverpool in last week’s friendly in Dublin.
He said: “It was phenomenal and it was quite a surprise as well. All the pre-season games I’ve been involved in so far have been as a central defender so to line up in midfield against the likes of (Steven) Gerrard was fantastic. I enjoyed it so much.”
Irvine is now optimistic that both he and Kilmarnock can enjoy success in the coming months. He said: “I’ve been really impressed so far. They’ve got some fantastic footballers and I really like the style of play the manager has got them playing. I think they’ve got a lot to show this year. I think we can really do something in the next few months.”
Meanwhile, St Mirren striker Steven Thompson remains on friendly terms with former Buddie Craig Samson but insists the old pals’ act will count for nothing when the goalkeeper’s new side travel to Paisley today.
Samson rejected the offer of a new contract with Saints in the summer to return to his hometown club Kilmarnock.
There’s no hard feelings between Thompson and his old team-mate, however, and the pair have already spoken in the build up to this weekend’s Premiership meeting.
But Thompson, who was in the same side as Samson last season when they led St Mirren to the Scottish Communities League Cup with a 3-2 win over Hearts at Hampden, insists their friendship will not stand in his way when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net.
The 34-year-old frontman said: “Killie obviously have Craig Samson in goal, so I will be hoping to put one past him.
“I spoke to him earlier in the week and we had a good chat. He’s loving his time at Kilmarnock, he’s a Killie boy so he’s enjoying being back down there.
“He was a great friend and a great team-mate but unfortunately that doesn’t count for anything when you are out on the pitch and I’ll be looking to score against him.”
St Mirren started the season with a 3-0 defeat to Inverness in the Highlands but were denied the opportunity for swift vengeance when their subsequent league fixture with Celtic was postponed while the Scottish champions flew to Dublin for their friendly with Liverpool.
A further blow arrived yesterday when it was confirmed Newcastle’s young striker Adam Campbell would not follow Conor Newton north on loan after he moved to Carlisle instead.
But Thompson, capped 16 times for Scotland, is confident the Paisley side can finally kick-start their season when they run out in front of their own fans for the first time this term.
“We are champing to get going again, especially after losing the first game up at Inverness,” he said. “When you lose a game, you always want the next one to come around quickly so you can right what went wrong.
“But the postponement of the Celtic game has given us an extra week to prepare and we have managed to put quite a lot of work in on the training ground.
“Hopefully that will stand us in good stead. There wasn’t an awful lot in the game against Inverness. We were disappointed with the penalty decision and then lost a really sloppy goal after.
“But a 3-0 defeat is pretty bad, so we need to put that right in front of our own fans and get our season up and running.”
Today’s meeting with the Ayrshire men will see former Saint Johnston return to his old club for the first time as a boss.
The former Queen of the South manager had struggled to add to the squad he inherited from Kenny Shiels in the summer until he landed Irvine from Celtic this week.
However, Thompson believes it is two members of last year’s squad that will pose St Mirren most of their worries.
Thompson said: “Allan has got a good pedigree. He did fantastically well last year at Queen of the South with Sandy Clark.
“It’s a new management team but they haven’t been able to bring in too many new players, but they have their own style and their philosophy and it will be a difficult game
“The main threat for me is Kris Boyd and Paul Heffernan up front. They are two players that you just cannot give any space near your box. You need to mark them so tightly. They are a real danger and will need to be watched carefully.”