Belfast Telegraph

This goal's for you dad ... 15-year-old schoolboy Matthew Shevlin points to the heavens after scoring on Ballymena United debut with his first touch

By Chris Kilpatrick and Billy Weir

At just 15 he's the new wonderboy of Irish League football.

Matthew Shevlin scored with his first touch on his debut for Ballymena United, making him the youngest player to find the net in the Co Antrim club's history.

As he wheeled away he paid a poignant tribute to his late father by pointing to the heavens.

The fifth-year schoolboy scored just 90 seconds after coming on as a substitute in the team's 3-0 win against Ballinamallard on Saturday.

Twenty-four hours after his fairytale debut it was back to homework duties yesterday for Matthew, who is tipped to have a big future in the game.

The precocious teen started his career at Carniny Youths where he was the top scorer for six successive seasons before his big move to the Braidmen.

Because of his tender years, the club's manager - former Linfield and Northern Ireland striker Glenn Ferguson - refused media requests to interview the starlet, eager to protect Shevlin from the spotlight for the time being.

"He's a big lad, he's got size 12 feet and he's certainly got a chance but it's keeping his feet on the ground now, keeping him level-headed and hopefully we'll be able to do that," said Ferguson.

"After the game we didn't single him out, we went around the team about how well they'd done and how they have to do it every week, but we mentioned about young Matthew coming on, it's a great day for him and the boys all gave him a round of applause.

"He came in about three or four months ago and played up top against Johnny Taylor and Davy Munster and after it they went 'who is that?' so they came off red-faced, not with embarrassment but through sheer hard work. He's non-stop. But we have to manage it, he'll not be in the squad every week, he'll be used periodically.

"He's 15 years of age, we've got to remember that. He has to go to school on Monday and do his homework and whatever he has to do, but it's a great day for him and his family."

Matthew was also the youngest player to ever pull on the Ballymena United shirt.

The youngest to appear in the Irish League was Jason Greenway for Glenavon, also against Ballinamallard, in 2012, and also aged just 15 but slightly younger than Matthew.

Matthew's club manager didn't record his first goal in senior football until he was 17.

"He's a confident lad but he's not arrogant. He's quiet, he's shy, he just wants to score goals. We thought 'why not?' and it has worked out well for us," Ferguson added.

Among those lauding the teenager for his exploits are teachers at Ballymena Academy where he is studying for his GCSEs.

He will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of a former pupil of the same school, Steven Davis. The Cullybackey-born midfielder is the current captain of the Northern Ireland side and a regular in the high-flying Southampton team.

Background

Norman Whiteside broke Pele's record as the youngest player to appear in a World Cup when he debuted for Northern Ireland aged 17 years and 41 days in 1982.

Golf ace Rory McIlroy topped the World Amateur Golf Ranking for one week as a 17-year-old in 2007. Later that year he turned professional and is currently the world number one.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph