PAUL McMullan may not have made the most of the footballing education he received at Hearts as a teenager but the Berwick Rangers midfielder is not someone weighed down by regrets.
On Sunday, McMullan will line up against Celtic in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, returning to the kind of spotlight he once seemed destined to enjoy on a regular basis when part of a Hearts side under Craig Levein which also included players such as Craig Gordon and Christophe Berra.
While some of his former team-mates have gone on to become Scotland internationals and ply their trade in the English Premier League, McMullan has taken a circuitous and unglamorous route to Third Division football at Shielfield Park since his release from Hearts six years ago.
"I don't look on it as a case of what might have been," says McMullan. "It's fantastic that Craig and Christophe have got to where they are, but I'm just grateful to be playing professional football. I never thought of quitting. I love football, it's my life and I'm grateful to be involved in the game. I'm not playing for Hearts any more, but I'm playing professional football and if I wasn't, then I wouldn't have the chance of games like this one against Celtic to look forward to. That makes it all worthwhile."
McMullan made the first-team breakthrough at Tynecastle at the age of 18, going on to make 22 competitive appearances for the club.
"Hearts were the greatest days of my life, playing alongside my best friends at the time," he adds. "I am still in touch with the boys I played with there, although most have moved on, higher or lower. You always get a great bond between the groundstaff at a club.
"I signed for Hearts when I was 13, went on to get a full-time professional contract and I spent four years there. Craig Levein gave me a chance in the first team when others wouldn't and I was always grateful for that. He developed me as a player and I appreciate what he did for me now. I fell out of the picture a bit and left to get first-team football in 2004."
Spells at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Raith Rovers were followed by an eight-month hiatus in Australia with Sorrento FC in Perth before McMullan returned home to join Hamilton Accies then Stranraer before signing for Berwick in 2007.
Still only 26, he is currently developing a new long-term career path in football as a result of the inspiration he took from his time down under.
"I am in my final year of a fitness, health and exercise course at City of Glasgow College," he says."I met a lot of outstanding people in Australia. I learned a lot from Trevor Morgan, the former Hull City first-team coach who now works out in India. He showed me how to develop every aspect of football and it really opened my eyes to the sports science side of the game.
"That's why I took this course. I hope it benefits me as a player and hopefully later in life I can help develop young players to be top professional footballers. I would eventually like to bring through groundstaff boys. That would be a fantastic job. I'd like to get involved in every part of youth development.
"I left school and went straight into full-time professional football at Hearts but I didn't achieve my Highers and you don't realise at the time how important these things are to get certain jobs. But I got into the college course because of my life experience as a footballer.
"The biggest thing I've learned from my course is taking care of yourself, leading a professional lifestyle.
"Sometimes footballers go out and like a bevvy but its important to put goodness into your body. I'm pretty professional off the park because I want to get the best out of myself."
McMullan hails from Viewpark, the same Lanarkshire village which produced the legendary Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone, an icon he says provides inspiration for every youngster growing up there. "Everyone spoke about him when I was a kid," he says, "and it makes you believe that someone from Viewpark can make it to the top. I still want to get better and go as high as I can in the game. I'm in the Third Division now but hopefully I can get back to the top. Every player at Berwick thinks that.
"This game against Celtic is a great opportunity to showcase ourselves and, hopefully, someone takes notice of you."