Harry Cochrane elbowed his way into the Hearts first team this season but it is his shoulder that bore the brunt of his graduation.
The midfielder, who turns 17 on Tuesday, has made 20 appearances for the Tynecastle side already this term and his performances have been rewarded with a new and improved contract that will tie him to the club until 2021.
But he says the induction into the top flight has been a bruising one, as he adapts to the physicality of the game.
A star when he scored the opening goal as Hearts ended Celtic’s invincible run with a 4-0 triumph earlier in the campaign, he was brought back to earth with a thump when the sides met up again in January. Not only were Craig Levein’s men on the wrong end of that result, the teenager was forced off in the 38th minute after a full-bloodied challenge by Celtic captain Scott Brown. It provoked a managerial war of words and sidelined Cochrane for several weeks, but he says it was also a valuable lesson.
“It was the awkward way I fell,” he said. “The shoulder is still sore just now! But it shows me I have to get in the gym more. I’m a bit skinny so I have been in the gym and I have the sport scientist working with me. I would say that even boys who are bigger than me at my age would still find it difficult because you are playing fully-grown adults. Being as wee as I am, it is difficult and that is why you have to think more, you have to be a step ahead. If not, when you get the ball you get smashed.”
A quick learner with an educated footballing brain and a desire to push himself against teams such as Rangers, who will play host to Hearts tomorrow, there has been interest from down south since he was drafted into the first-team squad but Cochrane said it was a simple choice to sign a new deal and stay at Hearts.
“I’ve not paid attention to any of the other stuff,” he added. “I’ve been concentrating on Hearts and when I was offered the deal it was an easy decision. The way the club are promoting youth, I’m just hoping to get even more chances to play in the first team. That is the main reason I signed the contract.”
Fellow teenage starlet Anthony McDonald has also signed a new deal until 2021 and, while both remain in the U-20s dressing room awaiting Levein’s orders to formally move up, Cochrane says that helps to keep them hungry.
“For now, I need to keep doing my jobs and cleaning boots. I am happy with that,” said Cochrane. “I’m still in the 20s changing room. It would be a good reward to get into the first-team one but I quite like being in with the boys. It is a good laugh.”
Levein knows the potential, having watched the promising stars negotiate the age levels, which is why they were offered new contracts, and he is keen to rebuff all overtures – for now. “It will be another three years before Harry gets anywhere near being the finished article physically,” said the manager. “I’ve just finished talking about Steven [MacLean, who has signed on a pre-contract] and the fact he has a football brain, and Harry plays the game up there too, so does Ant. Those two have been a breath of fresh air.
“We set out nearly four years ago now to develop our own talent and I see those two as the start of a potential conveyor belt of young players coming into the team
“They want to play and that excites me more than anything. We could have sold both of them already, easily, but I don’t want to, I want them to play 100 games for Hearts and then we can look at it. I want the Hearts supporters to watch them. I have been fortunate enough to watch them for the last four years and it excites me and I want people to see what myself and the academy coaches have been watching.
“I don’t want any of our players to go down to England to sit in an under-23s Premier League team where, okay they might still progress but they won’t progress as well as they will up here.”