Gareth McAuley: Why I was wrong about Shayne Lavery's surprising move to Linfield
I was shocked when I heard Shayne Lavery had taken, what I considered to be, a backward step by joining Linfield in the summer.
It was less than a year since he really impressed me and Jonny Evans during training sessions on Northern Ireland's tour of Central America with his bustling, energetic and ferocious style. He was great at closing down, robust and he could finish. I liked what I saw in the young striker and it didn't surprise me manager Michael O'Neill gave Shayne his senior international debut during the second half of our friendly with Panama.
I expected his career to flourish.
Instead, I was straight on to Andy Cousins, who is in charge of recruitment and young players within the Irish FA, asking, 'What was going on'?
Andy assured me the move could actually be to Shayne's advantage and he could use the Blues as a launch pad to another crack at professional. I wasn't convinced. Knowing how difficult it is to make it in England, I felt it might be a case of 'out of sight, out mind' and he'd be lost in an Irish League black hole.
Now, having watched his development over the last few months, including his goalscoring prowess during Linfield's European adventure, I believe it to be a shrewd move.
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Having been at Everton for the last two years, mixed with a short spell on loan at Falkirk, he's come home to be around a supportive family, is playing at a decent level with men rather than boys and under the stewardship of manager David Healy, Shayne can learn from Northern Ireland's greatest ever goalscorer. This year for Shayne is all about playing and learning.
When he was at Everton playing in the under-23s, those were nothing games, without any accountability. It's a situation where winning meant nothing. It's mostly all boys and Shayne, to help his progression, needed to be playing men's football.
Managers, even if the players are at big clubs like Everton, I can tell you don't take much heed if you are only playing under-23 football. They would much prefer to see how you perform in League One or League Two games. He should have gone out on loan there.
Instead, he moved up to Falkirk in Scotland's Championship, but that was a big mistake.
It would have been a real eye opener for all the wrong reasons, as the football would have been horrendous. It may have helped develop his character, but that is about it.
At Linfield, he can use this season as a springboard back into professional football. After signing a one-year deal at the Blues, he's certainly getting the most of this season by playing regularly and scoring goals.
But his next move will be the most important and he needs to get it right as he likely won't get another chance. He and his advisors need to be clever.
Don't expect too much too soon. It's all about small steps rather than one giant leap. Go to League One like Stuart Dallas (Brentford) and Gavin Whyte (Oxford), play regularly, be a key player and then when the time is right, make the jump to the Championship. Mark Sykes is currently doing well at Oxford and could join his international colleagues in the future in the Championship.
I had to do that coming from Coleraine and moving to League Two football with Lincoln.
It was a stepping stone and so if Shayne can continue his decent goalscoring form at Linfield, continue to educate himself under David then I really hope, after resurrecting his career at the Blues, he can get back into full-time football.
He's a nice kid and deserves a second chance.