Harry Cochrane has urged Scottish football’s brightest prospects to not even think twice about applying for the Scottish FA JD Performance School programme.
The application process for the next academic year is open now and no-one knows better than the Hearts midfielder what a great opportunity it is for any soon-to-be S1 pupil looking to take their game to the next level.
Cochrane – a former student of Grange Academy in Kilmarnock – is the ideal poster-boy for the project, having become the first Performance School graduate to not only start a senior SPFL Premiership goal, but find the back of the net as well.
His memorable strike against Celtic was named SPFL Goal of the Month for December 2017, capping a whirlwind few weeks for the Under-16 international.
Like fellow Performance School graduate Anthony McDonald – who attended Broughton High in Edinburgh – Cochrane has quickly won the trust of club boss Craig Levein, who is well known for affording opportunities to raw talents who have earned their shot.
While, ultimately, his schooldays will play only a small part in his development, Cochrane is in no doubt the experience was invaluable for him.
How do you look back on your time as a Scottish FA JD Performance School pupil, Harry?
Very fondly. I owe a lot to the coaches that worked so hard to help me improve as a player, alongside the opportunities I’ve had at Hearts. I think the two have complemented each other really well. Attending the Performance School at Grange Academy was a very important part of my development as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be honest, there were days when I was tired and didn’t want to get out of bed. Then I’d remind myself that I was going to play football for two periods of the school day, about how hard I’d worked to get to the point I was at and how far I still had to go to achieve my goals. It’s a great opportunity for any young player as long as you put in the graft and try to get the most out of every session.
Give us an insight into what an average day was like.
I don’t really think there was an average day. There was a lot of variety to it. Andy Goldie was my coach at Grange Academy and we never had to run for the sake of it. Everything was related to working with the ball and game-specific so we could improve our technique. We would focus a lot on individual player development. So I’d tell Andy what areas I thought I had to work on, he would come up with a drill and then spend time with me on that after the normal sessions. For example, I think it’s important to be able to move the ball on accurately and quickly so I’d watch footage of Xavi. Like me, he’s not naturally the quickest but his game awareness more than made up for that.
Football doesn’t stand still and the Performance School programme tries to reflect that. Was there anything in particular that opened your eyes?
I remember we incorporated elements of ballet and taekwondo to help improve our balance and flexibility. Maybe at first I thought it was a bit strange, when you’re being asked to shout as you punch a bag, but I’m used to doing yoga at Hearts to help us relax and stretch and that would probably have sounded odd to boys a few years ago. Now it’s accepted that stuff like that can only be good for our all-round development. Football’s always changing.
You’ve come a long way in a short space of time. What’s been the highlight so far?
It sounds like an obvious answer but the goal against Celtic. That was the best day of my life, so far. Christophe Berra had been moaning at me for not shooting earlier in the game, so I knew I had to let fly the next chance I got. Thankfully it paid off. I have to thank Craig Levein and Hearts for showing the faith they have in me.
What are the goals for 2018?
I have a long, long way to go and people like Andy Goldie and Liam Fox are quick to make sure I keep my feet on the ground. They don’t have to worry about that. I’m still in the Under-20 dressing room at Hearts and have my jobs to do around the training ground. I’ll help sweep the corridors, take the equipment out to the pitches and clean Liam and Arnaud Djoum’s boots. It’s all part of my learning curve. I hope to play as many games as I can for Hearts and I’m really looking forward to playing for Scotland again. It’s been nearly a year because of injuries and club commitments and I’ve missed it. We’re really tight as a squad and it would be great to make the Euros. Obviously the target when the Performance School system started was to produce players who could play for the senior team. I’m miles off that at the moment but it’s the ultimate ambition. You only have to look at Kieran Tierney, who has captained Scotland at his age. I think that’s amazing and he’s definitely set the benchmark.
Finally, who is your one to watch?
Everyone probably knows about Anthony McDonald and Billy Gilmour by now so I’d say Connor Smith, who plays for Hearts and Scotland. Connor’s full-time even though he’s only 15 and is getting more game-time with the Under-20s. We have a few really good young players at Hearts and Connor’s definitely one to keep an eye on.