Kinder: Blackburn Rovers youngster Mahoney won't get carried away
IT is a story ripped right out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.
Sixteen-year-old signs for his hometown club and within a month is making his debut on one of the biggest stages in world football.
But this is no fairytale.
And incredibly his rollercoaster ride is showing no signs of slowing down.
After becoming the third youngest players in Rovers’ history – at 16 years and 337 days – when he came off the bench in the FA Cup replay against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Blackburn-born Mahoney is now on the verge of making his England Under 17s debut.
The former Witton Park High School student will take his place in John Peacock’s squad for next week’s friendly double header with Belgium at St George’s Park after he was called off the standby list following an injury to Arsenal wonderkid Dan Crowley.
Remarkably it is just over two months since Mahoney – who was an unused substitute for Rovers in their New Year’s Day Championship win at Leeds United – was turning out for Accrington’s U18s at a wet and windy Lancaster and Morecambe College.
It was there where Rovers U21s boss Eric Kinder spotted the two-footed winger’s potential and made it his mission to bring him to Ewood Park.
But even the vastly experienced Kinder could not have predicted what was to follow.
“It’s been a whirlwind six weeks for Connor – I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Kinder.
“One minute I’m watching him play at Morecambe College for Accrington Stanley U18s on a horrific, wet day and then two months later he’s trained with our first team, played for our U21s, been a substitute at Elland Road, come on at the Etihad and has now been selected to play for England U17s.
“Our job now is to make sure that his feet stay on the floor and that he learns the game properly because he is a talented boy.
“But although I’ve only known him for six weeks, I can see he is very level headed.
“But you would not blame him if it did go to his head and he did start swanning around the place because it’s absolutely unbelievable what has happened to him.
“But I just can’t see it as he’s got his feet on the floor. I’ve started calling him Billy Big Time. He doesn’t like it as he’s far from that.
“You could see that on Monday after the U21s game.
“He walks out of the dressing room and he was carrying all the kit – that’s what a 16-year-old should be doing, helping the kitman and doing his jobs.
“But he does them with a smile on his face as he’s absolutely living the dream.”
Kinder knows there will come a time when the rollercoaster will start to go down. But he also knows that Mahoney could not be at a better club than Rovers – who from first-team manager Gary Bowyer down, care passionately about youth development – to give him the support he needs.
“He’s surrounded by good people who have dealt with all this before,” said Kinder, who was brought back to Rovers for a second spell by Bowyer in the summer after seven highly successful years in charge of Carlisle United’s U18s.
“We will know what to do when the rollercoaster starts going downhill.
“We’ve told him that football is not like this – it does not keep going up and up all the time.
“He has done nothing but go up.
“It will come down, though, and that’s when he’ll rely on us to help him through it. But I’m absolutely delighted for him and I’m absolutely delighted for the club.”
“We made the right decision in going for him and I have to thank the owners, Derek Shaw and Ian Silvester for backing my judgement.
“He needs to develop into his body as he’s nowhere near the other 17-year-olds because, with no disrespect to Accrington, they haven’t got the facilities that we have.
“Let’s hope he does well for England and then comes back here and continues to progress with us.”
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