Late doesn't always mean last
Steady progression or instant impression?
What do we expect from our young players?
I began to debate this in the aftermath of the transfer on Friday of my former team-mate, Stephen McGinn, to Watford and question at what age players, managers and supporters expect young professionals to be starring in first-team football.
In Stephen's case, he is probably the perfect example of an apprentice who has made gradual inroads into top-team football, steadily increasing his number of first-team appearances since he made his debut at the age of 18 until he became a permanent fixture in our team this season.
This successful transition is, of course, a consequence of his undoubted ability but also down to a fantastic desire to listen to advice, learn from it and do as much as possible to improve his game, from the technical aspect to his physical condition.
It is therefore clear that Stephen has made the most of the platform given to him by St Mirren and yet, as a teenager, there was no clear guarantee that he would go on to progress as he has.
I was released at 18 from Dundee, with the reason given that I was not ready for first-team football. I could not argue with that assessment as I wasn't, but should I have been, or is it correct to use such an age as a cut-off point for further development?
Despite my experience, I do agree that managers and coaches have to make judgements on players at certain stages of their careers and, as the latter teenage years coincide with the possible jump from apprenticeship to professional contracts, then it is inevitable that it is at this time that dreams can be shattered.
Furthermore, there are many people within football who would argue that these judgements are usually correct and that those players who are released do not have the necessary attributes to be successful professionals.
However, as always, there are exceptions to the rule and the game is littered with those who have had fantastic careers despite not following the conventional route to success and who only began to impress in the senior game as they reached their twenties.
Probably the most striking example of this is the Rangers captain, David Weir, a player who, having spent time studying and playing in the USA, returned to Scotland to begin a wonderful professional career at the age of 22.
This example, and others such as the former Arsenal striker, Ian Wright, can only serve as encouragement to those young players unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of which at times is only one opinion and perhaps inspire some to play their way back to a high level.
I acknowledge that there will always be those who are earmarked for the very top from a very early age and who progress as expected.
Aiden McGeady is one who has carried such expectation for several years and, indeed, is probably a player who satisfies both questions posed in my opening line in that he has continued to improve each season after initially grabbing headlines with a debut goal for Celtic while still a teenager.
However, surely the superstars are the easy ones to spot, the easy ones to tip for the top. It is those who may just be late developers, who may just be good enough and hungry enough to keep developing, that are the more difficult to foster.
In the short-term demands of the modern game, it takes a brave manager to develop these players, but sometimes fortune favours the brave.