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Rangers midfielder Cole McKinnon was delighted to win the Rangers Academy Player of the Year recently and has praised the youth coaching staff at the club for preparing him so well for life as a first-team player.

The 21-year-old made his Light Blues debut on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign against Hearts when he came off the bench to score in front of the Rangers fans at Tynecastle, a moment he will never forget.

He had to bide his time for further chances and went on loan at Partick Thistle during season 2022/23 but Philippe Clement has recognised his quality and gave Cole game time in a huge European tie against Benfica in March and he played his part in a creditable 2-2 draw in Portugal.

The Academy graduate then featured in a Scottish Cup triumph at Hibs a few days later and now trains with the first-team almost every day.

He has worked extremely hard to earn the right to feature for the club he has supported since he was a boy and is determined to soak up as much knowledge as possible in order to impress the manager and follow in the footsteps of Academy graduates like Ross McCausland.

Cole joined Rangers after starring for Drumsagard Boys Club and credits coach Sandy Tacey as a father figure who has helped shape his football journey.

Now he is learning from elite coaches and players every day at the training ground and is confident in his ability.

In a wide-ranging interview as he showed his support for The Rangers Youth Development Company – who have provided the Academy with more than £11 million since 2002 – McKinnon reflects on his Rangers journey so far.

The young midfielder, who also featured in the club’s 5-2 win over Dundee, said: “Winning the Academy Player of the Year recently was a nice one to get. It was class hearing your name being called out in front of the manager, the first-team squad and the women’s team.

“It was nice to get that award and it obviously means a lot to me but I am young and still learning and I will keep working hard and try my best every day in training.

“I’ve had a great grounding at the Academy and I’ve been well prepared for moving to the first-team.

“I’ve enjoyed the season and each day I feel I have progressed more and more. I’m training with the first-team a lot and I feel that has helped me hugely.

“Training under the new gaffer has been great, he has been really good with me, the same goes for the Academy staff as well.

“David McCallum, Malky Thomson and Brian Gilmour, before he went round to the first-team side, have all been so good with me and hopefully I can keep learning as much as I can from them all.

“I loved working under Giovanni van Bronckhorst as well and he gave me my debut against Hearts in 2022.

“It was great to feature at Tynecastle on the final day of the season before the Europa League Final in Seville.

“I knew I was going to make my debut the day before and I was buzzing.

“When I was sitting on the bench I knew we would be shooting towards the Rangers fans in the second-half when I was coming on and I just knew I was going to score.

“Getting to celebrate in front of the Rangers fans was special and something you dream about.

“I went away for pre-season the next year and had a great six months at Partick Thistle. Unfortunately, I picked up a few injuries and illnesses and the gaffer there got sacked and that was quite tough for me so I struggled a bit to get back into their starting XI.

“In football you need a lot of luck but you can also learn from the downs as well and I was grateful for the loan spell there.

“I would rather get told the harsh truths and the staff are great at Rangers, they tell you exactly what you need to hear and I can learn and pass on my experiences to some of the younger boys here.

“Playing against Benfica was unbelievable, probably a bit unexpected, but it was great to run out on to the pitch and be up against guys like Angel Di Maria.

“I loved it out there. It was such a nice stadium to play in and a huge night for the club.

“For the gaffer to throw me in to such an important game when it was 2-2, showed the belief he had in me and the Academy.

“It was even bigger for me to come on and help keep the score at 2-2. You need to take your chances when they come and hopefully I can earn more. Hopefully the harder I work the more chances I will get.

“It shows the rest of the boys in the Academy that he is not scared to play young boys. If you train well and work hard you are going to get chances and I don’t think age really matters to him.

“If you work hard in training and impress him then you are going to get chances.

“I was actually more nervous for the Hibs game than the Benfica game, I’m not sure why.

“But I got my chance late in the game and loved it. I was actually unlucky not to score as my goal was offside but I’m sure these opportunities will come for me again.

“That’s something I want to add to my game, scoring and assisting.

“The gaffer, Alex Rae, Brian Gilmour and Stephan van der Heyden are great with the young boys. They are not slow in telling you if you do something right during training and if you do something wrong they let you know how you can improve.

“The coaching staff are all there to help us and it’s great we have Brian Gilmour here to bridge the gap between the Academy and the first-team.

“Alex also has a lot of experience and won trophies with the club so it’s great to learn from him.

“So I will just keep working as hard as I can on my game. I love training every day and I want to learn as much as I can.

“I started here just as I was turning 15 then signed a professional contract quite early on. I loved coming through the Academy.

“I was one of the later boys to join as my peers were here from 9 years old so I found that quite tough at first.

“But I am a hard worker so I quickly caught up and the staff were great with me.

“My bond with the boys got stronger and stronger and once I was comfortable in the changing room I was able to show what I could do on the pitch.

“It’s a great environment to learn in and we have ex-players like Jonatan Johansson and Steven Smith at the club, it’s always good to learn from guys who have done it here. It was the same when Peter Lovenkrands and Kevin Thomson were at the Academy.

“You have to learn as much from guys like that who have so much experience.

“Training with the first-team boys now is great because you can learn so much and pick up wee snippets from them every day.

“I remember training with the first-team for the first time when Steven Gerrard was the manager. Now I do it a lot and feel part of the team. Each time you train you are learning and it becomes easier.

“They treat me as one of their own and that’s what Rangers is all about, we are all in it together.

“You have to be right on it every day and the facilities we have here are fantastic so you have to take advantage of that.

“Next season is going to be massive for me.

“I will work hard over the summer and I want to get a good pre-season and get to where I want to be.

“You see players like Ross McCausland coming through from the Academy to the first-team and it is always nice to see. We actually signed our pro deals on the same day and it’s great to see guys like him, Leon King, Nathan Patterson and Robby McCrorie coming through recently.

“There is a lot of talent here and more boys will get their chance. It’s down to the facilities and the coaching staff we have here who set us on our way.

“They do everything they can for us. All the staff start early in the morning and are here late into the night every day to help us progress.

“Ross is flying and getting his chance. It’s great to come through with a player like him and share a pitch with him. It’s fantastic to see where he is now. That gives myself and the other Academy players extra motivation to be where he is.

“I’m a hard worker and I’ll be ready to take the chances that come my way.

“Whatever happens to me in the future I definitely feel like it’s in my hands.”

Cole’s development was assisted by annual RYDC donations to the Rangers Academy and more than £11 million has already been provided.

Profit from RYDC products Rangers Lotto, Stadium Bricks and The Union Jackpot draw all go to the Academy, while profit from Museum Lotto is donated to the club for the upkeep and maintenance of the new museum.

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