At 14 years old, Heart of Midlothian youth player Anthony McDonald is working his way to living the life he has always dreamed of, becoming a professional footballer. Even at his young age, he’s already been training with the U20’s squad and has had sessions with the first team.
Anthony’s Dad, Alan said “He is loving it (life at Hearts). Last year he had a few injury problems so he was in and out of the side, but this year he has been much fitter and stronger and that has resulted in him being moved up to the U17’s squad from the U15’s. He has coped very well with this transition and is now learning another position, playing in a wider role for the 17’s.
“Over the last couple of months he has trained with the U20’s and with the first team and I think he is in dreamland. This is what he has always wanted, what he works hard for every single day and he is now starting to see the kind of life he could have if he keeps working hard and listening to his coaches.”
His hard work is already paying off as he travelled with the U20’s squad to their recent trip to Spain, facing opposition including Levante. “The trip to Spain was a shock to all of us, a wonderful happy shock” said Alan. “He is absolutely loving it and the coaches and older players have been fantastic with them (the younger players). Anthony is not alone in this, he has some other under 15’s players with him as well which is great testament to Hearts.”
With all the progress he is making, both Alan and Anthony still haven’t forgotten the roots from where it all started, Real Fife FC. “Real Fife was started in 2009 when I and some other parents decided we wanted to give our kids something a bit different from the same old that everyone else was doing” said Alan. “Anthony and his brother Jack played in the side along with their cousin Nicole so even from a very young age Anthony was playing against players who were older than him. In our training he would play against players who were two years older as Real Fife also had a 1999’s side.”
Anthony’s love for the game was apparent from a young age with Alan admitting he always had a ball at his feet and that his first word was appropriately, “ball”. However, Alan has no doubt about what helped shape Anthony into the player he is, saying “At Real Fife we became the first club in Fife to bring in Coerver Coaching Scotland to work with the players and coaches. This changed the way the kids were taught and the content they were taught. Everything was about working with the ball, learning the moves with both feet, understanding when to execute them, and ensuring that for the whole session the players had a ball. Anthony also attended the Coerver Elite Coaching every month in Edinburgh as well and I firmly believe that this and his Real Fife coaching was fundamental in helping to shape him as a player.”
With Anthony developing, it wasn’t surprising that pro-youth teams were interested as early as 2009/10. However, the temptation to move at the younger age was resisted with Alan saying “Anthony liked where he was, he enjoyed playing with his brother and his friends so there was no pressure applied to him to go to pro youth.”
Eventually though, the time was right for all involved. “When Anthony and his brother decided to go Pro Youth it was to Livingston” said Alan. "The Coerver attachment played heavily on that decision with John Collins and Shaun Scobie both being instrumental in the boys signing.
“At the time five of the Real Fife squad signed for Livingston in one night. Shaun had worked with these boys before as had John in various Coerver camps or demonstrations, so the kids were comfortable with them and liked their coaching methods.
“Anthony was again playing a year older than himself and the initial step up from boys club took a little time to adjust to, but as time wore on he adapted well. When the squad went to under 15’s Anthony stayed at his own age for the first time and it was then you could see the difference in the way he played. A change of position from striker to attacking midfield also saw him on the ball much more and in a position where he could influence games.”
Aided by his time at the Scottish FA performance school, it was decided to take a step to try and further Anthony’s career. If things progress at the current rate, it could also be a case of what might have for the green half of Edinburgh after Anthony's move didn't work out. Invited to train with Hearts though, Anthony has never looked back.
“From the very first training session at Hearts, Anthony looked relaxed and happy” said Alan. “He knew a lot of the kids from Broughton so that made joining in much easier. It was good to see him playing with a smile and when Hearts said they wanted to sign him I was very happy, very happy for Anthony.”
Despite currently living the dream life, Anthony still has his feet firmly placed on the ground. “He (Anthony) knows how hard that will be and how much help, luck, hard work he will need to even get a glimpse of it.
“In terms of setting goals that is down to Anthony, he understands what he wants and as he matures he is understanding more what is required to achieve these. The club are very proactive with the young players, sitting them down every six weeks to look at their progress, highlight areas for development\improvement and to also set new targets for them to work towards, no room for complacency or standing still.”