Caley Thistle attacker Daniel MacKay says he is still learning to cope with the bruising nature of senior football.
MacKay made his breakthrough to the Inverness first team last season, and made an instant impact when he became Caley Jags’ record youngest goalscorer with a debut goal in a 3-0 IRN-BRU Cup win over Peterhead last October, aged 16 years and 174 days.
Following 14 substitute appearances, MacKay, now 17, was handed his first start by manager John Robertson for Tuesday’s game against Dunfermline in the same competition, but he was unable to prevent the Highlanders losing 2-1 against the Pars.
After initially being taken aback by some of the rough treatment dished out by opposing defenders, MacKay says he is learning to cope with the physical demands of Championship football.
MacKay said: “It’s obviously the physical aspect I need to improve on to get my game a bit sharper. When you play under-18s and then go up to the first team it’s a big jump, as we don’t have a reserve team.
“You need to learn quickly. Youth football doesn’t prepare you for the physicality of first team football, that’s the big change I’ve found. You need to be ready to take a hit, whereas when you’re playing youth football people stand off you.
“When you come here there are no prisoners taken – it’s about winning at football, not your development. You need to get a winning mentality, and that’s the difference.
“I remember when we played Morton last year, Thomas O’Ware came through me from the start and that was a shock to the system. Beforehand I was only playing five or 10 minutes, but once I got a longer run I found they just come right through you.
“That’s something I need to cope with and start to adapt to, you need to try and angle your body in a certain way. My strength is pace and getting in behind teams so I shouldn’t need to use my physicality, but if I do I need to learn how to use it properly.”
Robertson has previously stated he views MacKay predominantly as an impact substitute in the meantime, however the former Millburn Academy pupil, who turned full-time earlier this summer, aims to break into Caley Jags’ starting line-up.
He added: “I would obviously like a few more starts but I’ll have to wait my turn because Nathan Austin and George Oakley have played well.
“While they are young, they are actually experienced boys. Most of them have played 100 or more games, so hopefully I can take little bits from their games.
“I’m always asking them what I should do, they’re always speaking to me in training, and there are boys like Liam Polworth who have come through the youth as well. He has been helping and encouraging me and as a young boy coming through I need the first team guys helping me out.
“I just need to wait, and if I can come on and make a difference I can maybe earn another start.”