Our writers profile 10 rising young stars from our sporting landscape who have the potential and talent to make a big splash in the year ahead.
Basketball: Sean Nealon-Lino
For several years, the giants of Scottish hoops have ensured Caledonia has punched above its weight in Great Britain’s team. With long-time captain Kieron Achara recently following ex-NBAer Robert Archibald into international retirement, only Glasgow Rocks’ Gareth Murray remains as a stalwart. At 34, he is much nearer a career end than beginning.
A void, you suspect, inevitably beckons. Yet Nealon-Lino is deemed most likely to emerge from the pack to join a next generation which has now been compelled to focus on navigating its way towards the Paris 2024 Olympics. Impressing in sporadic cameos at the Commonwealth Games, where Scotland surprised some by coming fourth, the GB under-20 cap quickly decamped to the United States and a sports scholarship at Fresno State University in California.
An athletic forward with a wingspan of over two metres, the 19-year-old from Edinburgh has sat out his first Stateside season to strengthen his body. But having been chosen to attend Michael Johnson’s Young Leaders academy in Dallas as a tribute to his off-court work in working with children with disabilities, Nealon-Lino is keeping his super-sized feet on the ground even as he bids to leap higher still.
Triathlon: Erin Wallace
Early successes, history has shown, are no guarantee of later accomplishment. Wallace, however, has such an array of options on her table that myriad opportunities beckon.
As a triathlete, she is now confirmed amid the Next Big Things after earning silver in the junior race at September’s world championship Grand Final on Australia’s Gold Coast, six months after a Commonwealth Games cameo at the same venue in the mixed relay event. Fifth in the Europeans in the summer, 2019 will likely be the season when the 18-year-old from Glasgow dips her toes into the grown-up rough and tumble of the World Series.
In her sideline gig in athletics, the British indoor 800 metres record holder at Under-17 level came up just short of a medal at the world junior championships in Tampere, finishing seventh in the 1,500m final. Wallace’s versatility was underlined with a CV that also recorded outings over 200m and the high jump for her club, Giffnock North, during the summer. At some point, she may need to specialise to optimise her Olympic odds. For now, she retains the admirable ability to hop between arenas without missing a step.
Cycling: Jack Carlin
2018 was a year during which the 21-year-old from Paisley was forced to see a silver lining. Second in the individual sprint at track cycling’s world championships in Apeldoorn, a genuine breakthrough into the elite. Second, additionally, in the team sprint, alongside proven goliaths Jason Kenny and Phil Hindes.
Then, a further sprinting silver, behind Australia’s Matthew Glaetzer at the Commonwealth Games, in the wake of claiming the scalps of Ed Dawkins and Max Levy en route to the final.
The consistency was ruptured, close to home, when he took bronze in the keirin at the European Championships in Glasgow, and was relegated into fourth spot in the sprint, both still among the higher points in what was a deflating week for the British team.
Inquests have been undertaken and adjustments made. All of which will surely put the Scot in an even stronger position to engage a higher gear as the race for Olympic rides in Tokyo heats up at February’s worlds in Pruszkow. Deemed ice-cool under pressure, British Cycling sees Carlin as capable of delivering gold and he sees no reason to prove them wrong.
Rugby: Stafford McDowall
Physicality isn’t everything in rugby but it certainly doesn’t hurt in the attritional slog the modern game at its highest level has become. Scotland have always lagged behind other major powers when it comes to producing a depth of youngsters with genuine heft, but promising Glasgow centre McDowall certainly looks the part. Standing at 6ft 4in and carrying over 16st of prime Galloway beef, the 20-year-old has also shown in his early career enough skill and character to suggest he is a star in the making.
After captaining Scotland under-20s in the Junior Six Nations and World Cup last year, and making a Glasgow debut as an academy player in the 2017-18 season, the former Kirkcudbright Academy pupil and Stewartry RFC product, who has been playing most of his rugby the past couple of seasons at his draft club Ayr, was awarded a full professional contract last month after a string of impressive displays for the Warriors in the Pro14 during the November Test window.
Glasgow coach Dave Rennie said: “He’s a big man with the ability to carry through contact, he’s incredibly fit and his distribution and kicking skills are also of real quality... we think he has a really big future ahead of him.”
Football: Mikey Johnston
When Celtic handed Johnston a new contract in November, which runs until the summer of 2023, it was a clear indication of the value they attach to a winger who has been hailed as a “huge talent” by manager Brendan Rodgers.
Now 19, Johnston made his first-team debut under Rodgers 18 months ago but his rate of progression was subsequently stalled by injuries.
He has recently re-emerged as a fitter, stronger and more mature player who now appears capable of marrying the necessary mental strength and tactical discipline to his undoubted technical gifts.
Johnston, who scored his first senior Celtic goals in the recent Premiership victories over Motherwell and Dundee, appears poised to challenge for a regular place in the champions’ starting line-up during 2019. It could also be a big year at international level for the teenager who last summer scored a stunning individual goal for Scotland’s under-21 side against England in the Toulon International Tournament.
Glasgow-born and raised Johnston, who has also been coveted by the Republic of Ireland for whom he is eligible through his grandparents, is among those emerging talents who can bid to force their way into Alex McLeish’s squad for Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Golf: Bob MacIntyre
One of four Scots to graduate from the Challenge Tour, the 22-year-old left-hander from Oban has wasted no time finding his feet on the European Tour. He’s made the cut in three out of his first four events on the 2019 schedule, finishing joint 15th in both the South African Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship. In three rounds in those two events, MacIntyre played with two-time Open champion Ernie Els and seemed totally unfazed. That’s probably down to him being a laid-back individual and, having hit the ground running in his first full season in the paid ranks, he will be hoping to see his game go from strength to strength in 2019.
Swimming: Scott McLay
The 19-year-old has already proven himself as a burgeoning force in the pool. His aspirations are sky-high. With ambitions to follow in the footsteps of his father by becoming a pilot, McLay spent the Christmas period amid the clouds of California picking up further flying experience. However in his first full season competing amongst the big guns, the teen tyro from Perth unwrapped enough of his potential to suggest he can elevate himself into contention for an Olympic trip in 2020.
Grabbing a milestone bronze as part of Scotland’s potent 4x100 freestyle relay squad at the Commonwealth Games was a boon and a curse. A lack of individual swims Down Under effectively sank his hopes of competing at the subsequent European Championships in Glasgow.
A highly-frustrated spectator there, it was fuel for the fire, he admits, in his daily rigours within a group at the University of Stirling that includes a prime role model in the shape of Duncan Scott. Now effectively contemporaries, McLay wants to join the golden boy at next summer’s world championships in Korea. A relay place would be nice, he concedes, but his sights are trained on flying solo by Tokyo.
Women’s football: Zoe Ness
At the start of 2018 Ness was still seeking her first cap. But, 12 months on, the Scotland international is looking to consolidate after an impressive year and book her place at this summer’s World Cup. If the 22-year-old is included in the squad for Scotland women’s first ever involvement in the lofty tournament, then she can be sure that manager Shelley Kerr will have her there on merit, having played a small but key role in booking the nation’s place in France.
With the game ebbing towards a goalless stalemate when Scotland hosted Poland in April, the striker, who plays for Durham Women in the English Championship, sparked the home side to life in the nick of time, netting a 79th-minute opener as the team went on to triumph 3-0. She finished the year with three caps, a support player to the first-choice regulars but, the player, who was much-capped at both U17 and U19 level, has between now and June to force her way to the forefront of Kerr’s plans.
Golf: Hannah Darling
Scotland has a number of promising young female golfers coming through the ranks and the Broomieknowe 15-year-old looks as though she can prove to be the pick of the bunch. Darling was just 13 – the youngest player to claim the title – when she won the Scottish Girls’ Championship in 2017 and underlined her potential by hanging on to that prize at Moray. That came after she had also won the inaugural Girls Under-16 Open Championship at Fulford and, having just been picked for the Great Britain & Ireland women’s squad ahead of the Vagliano Trophy at Royal St George’s, she has already been handed a big boost heading into 2019.
Windsurfing: Islay Watson
Crowned champion at the world youth sailing championships in July with three race wins in a single day in the RS:X event on the Texan coast, Watson joined the likes of Sir Ben Ainslie in cutting her teeth with victory at the showcase. Heady company indeed.
The 18-year-old from Aviemore was blown off course in her quest for a golden double at the subsequent Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, finishing 11th, while she came ninth at the worlds for the techno-plus class in Latvia despite winning three of the 11 races.
Nevertheless, it was another campaign of huge progress in which Watson also acquired a European bronze, flipping between a number of different disciplines and conditions.
Splitting her time between the Highlands and her training base in Dorset, Watson has been marked out as a future Olympian with her sister Erin rising on a parallel trajectory.
Even with the wind behind her, Tokyo might come too soon for the global conqueror. Certainly, Paris (or more exactly, Marseille) will be on her mind after RS:X was confirmed last month as the Olympic windsurfing category for the 2024 Games.