Glentoran youngster Kym Nelson relishes chance to play lead role on the Irish Cup big stage
If anyone is getting his teenage kicks at the minute, it's Kym Nelson. The Glentoran midfielder really is living the dream.
Since bursting onto the scene as a complete unknown - the youngster didn't even have a name on the back of his shirt when he made his first-team debut in February last year - Nelson has come a long way in a short space of time, establishing himself as one of the brightest young talents in Northern Ireland.
While a number of cross-channel scouts have put the likes of Crusaders' Gavin Whyte and Nelson's Oval team-mate Jordan Stewart under the microscope, the 19-year-old hasn't been on their radar.
That, however, could all change if he produces a big performance on the grand stage when the Glens meet Portadown in Saturday's Irish Cup final.
"This is my first full season with the first team, so it's a dream to be playing in the Irish Cup final," said Nelson.
"It's a dream come true for me really after supporting Glentoran all my life."
The boyhood Glenman didn't, however, get to cheer the team on in their last Irish Cup final two years ago, when they ruined Cliftonville's treble hopes with an extra-time victory.
Nelson had his feet up at home, but not in the way he would have liked.
"I was playing for the seconds on the Thursday night before the Irish Cup final and tore the ligaments in my ankle and ended up in hospital," said Nelson.
"I was meant to go to the final, but was on crutches and I remember sitting at home with my leg up watching it on TV on my own because my family were all there."
Although it is only 24 months since that triumph, the Glentoran side is almost unrecognisable. Indeed, captain Elliott Morris and midfielder Stephen McAlorum are the only survivors from the 2013 success who will start this time around.
Nelson followed a familiar path into the Glentoran first team. After playing for Dungoyne Boys in his youth, the boy from Ballybeen joined the club at 15-years-old, taking the same route as former Oval favourites like Paul Leeman and Andy Kirk.
Nelson is just one member of an exciting group of youngsters, which includes Stewart, Danny McKee, Stephen Gordon, Willie Garret and Stephen McCullough, who have emerged over the last couple of years as manager Eddie Patterson has put his faith in youth.
And although it's only 14 months since he made what was a surprise debut - such a surprise that the club didn't even have time to get a shirt printed for him, hence the nameless top - in the white-hot heat of a televised Big Two battle, Nelson is very much established in the first-team squad.
"I didn't think my chance would come along so soon," he said. "I started training with the first team 18 months ago and that's all it was. We played Linfield in a Sky game and we had three or four suspensions and a few players injured and I was told to report for 6.30pm.
"Eddie called me into his office and asked me if I was ready to play. My eyes bulged out of my head and I haven't looked back since.
"Glentoran are very much building for the future with this squad.
"There is a lot of young energy in the team. We are all still learning the game and we have good coaches behind us who are encouraging us to play the right way and it's enjoyable."
Although he has started 25 games this season, taking his total number of appearances to 44, Nelson's youthful exuberance naturally means that he would like to have played more.
Patterson has carefully nurtured his young talent though, leaving him out of the team at times to protect his long-term future, but a rest is the last thing on his mind this week.
"We didn't really talk about it much, but he (Patterson) did say to me that as a young player I wouldn't play every week and some weeks I would play and then wouldn't other weeks," said Nelson.
"I train full-time with Belfast Football Academy and he was just trying to be careful with the full-time training and being with Glentoran on Tuesday and Thursday and playing on Saturdays and trying to even it out.
"The rest sometimes has helped because I have come back fresher. Other weeks I have felt a bit fatigued after a couple of matches and full-time training so it's been good to get a rest.
"Part of me wants to play every week and sometimes players who come in do well and you might have to wait to get back in.
"He's the manager, he makes the decisions and he's looking at the bigger picture. I am 19 and although I want to play every week, he's wary of burnout and it's his decision and I have to go with it."
THE Irish Cup final looks set to be Stephen McAlorum's last match in a Glentoran shirt - despite the club making a fresh contract offer to the player.
It is understood that the Glens' determination to keep McAlorum has led to them offering improved terms.
Cliftonville are believed to have jumped to the head of the queue for the 28-year-old, who was one of Eddie Patterson's first signings when he joined the Glens from Donegal Celtic three years ago, with Reds boss Tommy Breslin searching for players who can improve his squad for a renewed title challenge next season.
One of McAlorum's former clubs, Glenavon, have also met with the player.
- Irish Cup Final: The Oval, Sat 2.30 pm (BBC)