Oval starlet Ethan is living the dream
Ethan Warnock has just made a special bit of history at Glentoran but it's the future he's focusing on.
There are few more enjoyable feelings in football than watching a young player fulfil his potential and there's no doubt that this boy from the Holywood Road in east Belfast is something special.
The Ashfield student became Glentoran's youngest ever outfield player at just 15 years and 306 days following his first team debut at Ballinamallard United last Saturday.
Goalkeeper Wayne Drummond, another Ashfield old boy, holds the overall club record - 15 years and 220 days - but right now the name 'Ethan Warnock' is the talk of east Belfast and beyond.
Set to continue his footballing education with Everton in the summer, the teenager is living the dream and pulling on that famous Glentoran jersey for the first time is a moment he will cherish forever.
Ethan will link up with the Premier League side in a two-year scholarship, with the hope of a professional deal and glittering career within reach.
"It was an exciting day for me when I made my Glentoran first team debut and I hadn't played in front of that many people before," said Ethan. "I'm proud to make history. I always wanted to play for the Glens and hopefully now that I have made my debut I can make many more appearances for the club.
"I was very nervous - even shaking - and I found it hard to settle once the game started but I gradually became more comfortable and confident. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience.
"The response has been brilliant with fans sending me positive messages on Facebook. I wasn't expecting to play in the game so to start the match was fantastic. I've been with the Glens since I was eight-years-old and making a first team appearance has been my dream.
"All the coaches at Glentoran and at my school, Ashfield, have been brilliant with me. They have treated me like a family member, not just like a footballer. They feel like parents to me, not just coaches.
"They have always been there for me. John (Spence) at Ashfield has been very supportive while Stephen Lowry, his brother David and uncle Glenn have been first class, as has everyone at Glentoran including the players. Everyone wants me to do well and I'm very grateful for all the help I have received.
"Everton were keen for me to join them after they played our Club NI side two years ago and they have been very good with me. The coaching over there is different class. I can't wait to go over there and push on. It was an opportunity that I could not turn down and we'll see what develops."
Ethan's rapid rise to the Glentoran first team has left his family bursting with pride, including father Raymond, mother Stephanie and 19-year-old sister Morgan.
Raymond, who was the proudest man in Fermanagh last Saturday, said: "Ethan had been playing for the Seconds so there was the possibility of a first team debut and Gary (Haveron) has faith in him.
"It may take a while for a player to develop a football brain but physically he is strong and not out of place. He's really enjoying his football and we are giving him all the support he needs in whatever path he goes down.
"He's been around the world with Glentoran and Club NI and he trains incredibly hard. He's not often in the house as he could be training or playing five times a week. And he's come a long way since the eight-year-old who ran out at Victoria Park. As an east Belfast boy, playing for Glentoran was his big dream and no other club could win him over.
"He's got seven junior Irish Cup medals and he also captained the Club NI side that played Real Madrid in Barcelona two years ago. Everton were the first club to show a real interest in Ethan and they have treated him very well. We've let him determine his own future and this is what he really wants."
Stephen Lowry, Junior Director at the Glentoran Academy, had the privilege of managing a team that benefited from Ethan's class and now he's excited to see how far this rising star can go in the game.
"Our Academy was only starting when Ethan joined," he explains. "For the first night's training in our under-10 group only three kids turned up at Victoria Park and Ethan was one of them.
"We eventually got a team together, entered a league and in one game we put Ethan on as a substitute at left-back. After his first two touches of the ball we knew we had a star. His first touch, control and passing were sublime. Three of his team-mates, Oliver Webber, Josh Tipping and Caolan Boyd Munce have also moved across the water to Crystal Palace, Chesterfield and Birmingham City so we are delighted no-one gave up on that team.
"After Keith Gillespie signed for the Glens and watched a training session, he was very impressed with Ethan and that was further evidence of how much he was improving.
"In my team, Ethan was the best left back in the country for years and no-one else has seven junior Irish Cup medals. He also thrived with the Club NI side and Everton took notice.
"He just oozes class, doesn't panic and has great vision and awareness. His range of passing is amazing and I think Gary (Haveron) appreciated that. I must give credit to his parents, Raymond and Stephanie, they've kept him on the straight and narrow and are rightly proud of him. He has the potential to be a local icon and he's so well grounded and mature for his age.
"I'd like to thank him on behalf of our Academy because he has shown us loyalty and through his talent we have been able to attract players. As an east Belfast Glenman, he has achieved his dream and no-one can take that away from him.
"My abiding memory of Ethan is when, after we won a tournament in Paris in 2010, I saw this wee boy aged eight or nine asleep on his daddy's lap on the bus on the way home. It was the year the volcano erupted in Iceland and we couldn't get our flight home. We had to drive home the long way and I can recall saying to his father we will remember that image when he's famous. Seven years on and hopefully his dream is going to happen."
Glentoran's senior players are on hand to give Ethan the right advice and former Rangers favourite Nacho Novo takes a genuine interest in the club's emerging talent.
"Ethan and other young lads such as Tiernan McAuley have the potential to become top players," said Novo, who visited the Royal Victoria Hospital yesterday to hand out presents to kids.
"Making his first team debut is great for Ethan's confidence but how he develops is largely down to him and his attitude. I've seen good young players fall away, it depends on their character and willingness to work hard and learn.
"You need to be mentally strong to make it and it's important to remember he's still a 15-year-old boy with so much to learn but we all have high hopes for Ethan and Tiernan."
Ethan's progress has also been tracked by the Spence family. Billy, a Glentoran scout for 32 years, has loved watching the boy shine under the guidance of his son John, football coach at Ashfield Boys' School.
"I've watched Ethan play for Ashfield and in my 40 years of watching schools' football he is one the best prospects I have seen," says Billy.
John adds: "Ethan is a great kid, an all round good lad.
"He was part of the Ashfield team that did the double and we only lost once in 22 games and Ethan had to go off with a head injury in that defeat.
"He reminds me of Mal Donaghy in that he can play anywhere.
"We have had 10 players from the school to go on and play international football.
"We need one more to make the full team and Ethan could be that player."
But for Ethan, who trains with the first team squad today, international dreams can wait.
How about scoring the winner against Linfield on Boxing Day and upsetting Blues boss David Healy who knows him well from the Club NI set-up?
Now that really would be the stuff of east Belfast schoolboy dreams.