Teenager McWilliams relishing his chance to shine for Cobblers
It as been a memorable few weeks for teenager Shaun McWilliams.
A little over a month ago, the 18-year-old Cobblers midfielder was out on loan, playing in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division with King’s Lynn.
After being recalled to Sixfields by Justin Edinburgh, McWilliams made his senior debut as a substitute in the 1-1 draw at Rochdale, before further performances off the bench against Sheffield United and Shrewsbury Town.
He then made his first League start at Bury last weekend, and this Sunday he is in line to make his full home debut for the Cobblers in their Sky Bet League One clash with Gillingham (ko midday).
It has been all been a bit of a whirlwind, but the level-headed Duston boy knows that is just a start.
“The manager has given me a chance and I have got to push on now,” said McWilliams.
“I need to go into the gym and get stronger, and when I come back after the break I have to return just as I have left, if not better.”
McWilliams is nearing the end of his first season as a professional footballer, and he added: “I am looking forward to having some time off, but I know that I still have to work hard off the field so that when I come back for pre-season there are no slip-ups and I am ready to go.”
Handed a professional contract by Chris Wilder this time last year, McWilliams was used frequently in pre-season by Rob Page before being sent out on loan, and the former Soccer Stars and Falcons player admits that experience has been a huge help to him.
“Playing there got me up to match speed, and kept my fitness levels up,” said the teenager.
“The players there are quite a high standard with a lot of ex-pros, so it helped me to get my head around the game.
“There are also a lot of players that are big, the central defenders are big and strong.
“You have to know how to work around that if you are not the biggest yourself, and being there I have adapted to that and think I know how to use my body quite well.”
McWilliams joined the Cobblers academy three years ago from the Aston Villa youth system, and he was quick to praise the quality of his footballing education at Sixfields.
“The coaches at the academy, from Craig Hinton who used to be there, through to Mark (Lyons) and Lee (Garlick), they push you on,” said McWilliams.
“Their training is quite intense, so when you get called into the first team you can say they have helped you.”
So how was the transition into the first team?
“It is a big step up,” said McWilliams. “You don’t get as much time on the ball, and there are players who are not easy to beat.
“Everybody is a good player, so you have to be on it, your fitness levels have to be good.
“If you are put in there to last the full 90 minutes then you have to do that.”
A full home debut this weekend would be the icing on the cake for McWilliams, who admits it has all happened in a bit of whirl.
But he has risen to the occasion when asked to, and produced a solid performance on his first start at Gigg Lane, and he admitted: “I was very excited when I discovered I was starting, and then I thought I did okay.
“The result wasn’t what we wanted, but I thought I played well.
“It has all come around so quickly since being recalled from King’s Lynn, to then being on the bench and coming on, and my family has been there every game.
“They have been excited and have been saying ‘can’t wait for you to start’, and then I did that at the weekend. It’s been good.”
One thing that McWilliams is yet to experience in his embryonic Cobblers career is that winning feeling, and he hopes that comes on Sunday.
“We now have to go again and try to end the season on a high,” said McWilliams.
“Gillingham are going to come at us on Sunday, and we have to be on the ball.
“But we haven’t had a win for a while and I think we are due one.”