Opinion: Teenager’s cameo helps lifts Showgrounds gloom

Matthew Shevlin is congratulated by his Ballymena United team-mates after becoming the club's youngest ever senior goalscorer in Saturday's 3-0 win over Ballinamallard United. Picture: Press Eye.

Matthew Shevlin is congratulated by his Ballymena United team-mates after becoming the club's youngest ever senior goalscorer in Saturday's 3-0 win over Ballinamallard United. Picture: Press Eye.

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Sometimes in this profession, the stories and headlines simply write themselves.

After several weeks of injuries, poor performances and bad results, Ballymena United supporters would have welcomed absolutely anything that could rekindle the spark into a season which had gone alarmingly south in the past couple of months.

Not many would have foreseen it coming in the form of a 15-year-old who only joined the club in the summer.

One of the benefits of my job is that you get to track the progress of sportspeople from grass roots level as they progress to whatever level their talents take them - right up to the international arena in some extreme cases.

I’ve been aware of Matthew Shevlin’s goalscoring prowess throughout his development with Carniny Youth and have noticed that he has continued to shine since joining Ballymena in the summer, in youth team and at reserve team level.

It was eyebrow-raising material when his name appeared among the substitutes for the recent County Antrim Shield defeat at Cliftonville earlier this month. He didn’t get on that night but, given United’s limited attacking options through injuries, I had a sneaking suspicion he might get a run-out when he was listed on the bench last Saturday.

As he stepped onto the pitch, I was giving a brief synopsis about the teenager to some media colleagues who were less familiar with the new arrival.

“It would be some craic if he came on and scored,” said one.

Lo and behold, a Tony Kane free kick, a fumble from Ballinamallard keeper Stefan McCusker and a predatory close-range finish from Shevlin and a new chapter had been written in the Ballymena United record books - all inside the space of less than 120 seconds.

In an instant, United’s first league win since September and Mark Surgenor’s double strike were yesterday’s news; the only show in town was a 15-year-old scoring with his first touch in Irish League football.

After the game Glenn Ferguson, as if pre-empting the media’s next request, made it clear that the teenager would not be available for interview.

It was a sensible move on the manager’s part to protect the youngsters, whose head was probably in enough of a spin as it was, without three or four tape recorders thrust in front of his face.

But Ferguson, in his own post-match press conference, heaped praise upon Shevlin for the impact he has made in his short time at the Showgrounds.

You get the impression that the manager realises that he has had a rough diamond dropped into his lap, one which he and his coaching staff will attempt to polish to reach its full potential.

The fact that his uncle is United goalkeeping coach Wes Lamont will also be a benefit to him - not in terms of any favouritism but rather because he will have someone close at hand to advise him on what it will take to play at the highest level in this country, if not higher still.

Amid all the excitement surrounding young Shevlin, spare a thought for Mark Surgenor, whose two-goal display was largely forgotten.

Chatting to him afterwards, I suggested that on any other day, his exploits would have been enough to earn him the headlines and the media attention.

In typical fashion, though, the hugely popular Surgenor replied: “This is Matthew’s day - he deserves it.”

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)