Former Hearts hero and Northern Ireland international Andy Kirk says his teenage son Makenzie has been given an opportunity to chase his boyhood dreams.
The 18-year-old made his debut for the Edinburgh club at the weekend as a substitute, leaving his family, including dad Andy and mum Karen, bursting with pride.
The promising striker came on for his first appearance for the Jambos when he replaced former Cliftonville striker Liam Boyce in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Ross County.
Andy, who joined Hearts from Irish League club Glentoran in 1999, is now excited to see where Makenzie’s career takes him.
The 42-year-old Brechin City boss, who won 11 Northern Ireland caps, had an extra reason to feel proud as his boy began his senior career with a club that is close to his heart.
On their Twitter account, Hearts posted a photograph of Andy holding a two-month-old Makenzie in his arms after his final game for the club in 2004.
Makenzie was recently with the Northern Ireland U18s squad for the Federations Cup in Spain and now it feels like a path has opened up for him, provided he can maintain a strong work ethic and willingness to learn.
“We are all very proud, the whole family. He’s a great lad and always been a steady developer over the years,” says Andy, whose father is former Lisburn Distillery boss Paul Kirk.
“He started at Rangers from the age of around seven and joined Hearts Under-14s.
“He’s always developed at various stages and is a really good finisher. He’s 6ft 2in and starting to fill out. He’s on the right track and we are extremely proud of him. As long as he keeps working hard and stays dedicated he gives himself a chance.
“He’s had some really good experiences in the last few weeks and that’s got to set a fire off in his belly and make him hungrier to achieve more.
“We keep reminding him he’s got this recognition due to hard work and that can’t change.
“If he wants to achieve more things he needs to continue to work harder than ever on a daily basis. He’s just got to keep pushing.”
The remarkable statistic in the Hearts tweet was that goalkeeper Craig Gordon played in both matches — Andy’s final game for the club in 2004 and Makenzie’s debut in Dingwall.
“Football is amazing, where it takes you and the links it creates,” says Andy. “It’s a special moment. I had the best parts of my professional career at Hearts, it’s a fantastic club, really good fan base and I’m just glad he’s on the right track but he has a long way to go.
“The appearance is a reward for the goals he’s scored and he’s been away with the Northern Ireland Under-18s.
“At the minute things are good for him but football is a tough industry and he needs to be totally dedicated to make a career in the game.”
As well as the Glens and Hearts, Andy’s career included spells with Boston United, Northampton Town, Yeovil Town, Dunfermline and Alloa Athletic. He netted 164 goals in 517 games during a 16-year career.
Young Makenzie doesn’t have to look far to find the right mentor offering sound advice.
“He’s got to want to do it, you can push as a parent but the kid must be totally committed and want to do it otherwise it will be a problem,” adds Andy.
“We have always shared with him and our younger boy Corey the professional values of conducting yourself well and working hard. Achievements follow your efforts and hard work.
“There’s always been that mindset of give it everything you have and see where it takes you.
“You are always there to support him, it’s a path I’ve been on myself and he must learn from mistakes too.
“It’s different for this generation of young players and our role is to support and encourage them as much as we can to help him keep doing the right things.”
Andy, meanwhile, is continuing his managerial career at Brechin City. The Belfast man, who lives just outside Edinburgh, was handed the role in June 2021.
He began coaching in Rangers’ youth academy before joining the Hearts backroom staff and taking charge of the club’s women’s team.
He also had stints as interim manager and assistant to Daniel Stendel.
“Craig Levein is there as an advisor to the board,” adds Kirk, who played under Levein for three years and has worked closely with him in the coaching set-up in recent years.
“Brechin had been in the Championship but relegated down from League Two to the Highland League so there has been a whole restructuring with a new chairman and board.
“I’ve been taken on as manager. In 2011 I started the coaching badges at Dunfermline but before that, in my late 20s I started to look at the game a bit differently. I always had coaching in my head and the older you get it becomes a bigger priority.
“I knew when I finished playing, I wanted to learn and develop as a coach from youth level and I’ve been fortunate to move from Rangers’ youth teams to Hearts and into Under-20s and reserve-team manager and first-team coach.
“It’s been quite a quick progression and I love the challenge.
“I always had that burning ambition to be a manager and the more I got into it the more I realised it was the path for me.
“I wanted to have a right good go at it and I’m loving what I am doing.”
While Makenzie continues his development there’s another member of the Kirk family worth keeping an eye on.
His younger brother Corey (15) is playing boys’ club football and no doubt keen to follow in his sibling’s footsteps.
It’s a football family that just keeps producing winners.