JOSH MULLIN took a couple of steps back. When he strides out at Hampden this afternoon, it will be proof that he has taken many more forward.
After a youth career on the books of the Old Firm, Falkirk and Airdrieonians that saw him become disillusioned with the game, it was at Kilbirnie where Mullin fell back in love with it.
The rest, they say, is history. A move to Albion Rovers gave the midfielder the platform to prove himself and he is now in his second spell at Livingston having spent two years at Ross County.
His journey through football has been wondering at times, but all roads lead to Hampden now as David Martindale’s side prepare to face St Mirren in the Betfred Cup semi-final.
“It was probably right from the start at Kilbirnie and the squad I went into,” Mullin said when asked if there was a moment that the penny dropped in his career.
“There were loads of guys like Davie McGeown, Shaun Dillon and Kevin McDonald who had played for big senior clubs and in Europe.
“They said to me, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you playing at a higher level’.
“I told them what had happened and I don’t regret any of it. These guys moulded me to be the player I am today.
“That is probably the time when the penny dropped and I knew what I wanted to do in football. It was a question of how I got there and how quickly.
“There were boys I came through the youth academy with who were closer to the first team than I was. But those guys all seem to have gone down the way, while I have gone up.
“Stepping away from it was the right thing for me because I felt there were a lot of false promises made. I wasn’t enjoying it, so I went back to play with my mates and that was the best thing I ever did.”
The semi-final showdown won’t be the first Hampden outing of Mullin’s career, but it is certainly the most important 90 minutes he has had in the game.
It is an opportunity the 28-year-old will relish, though. As he continues to go from strength to strength, there is a realisation of where he has been and an understanding of where he could go with an in-form Livingston side.
Mullin said: “It does feel like I am playing with my mates and I always look back to the Kilbirnie days and know that I am privileged to be where I am just now.
“I try to enjoy football as much as I can, and I think you can see that in my performances.
“At Parkhead last Saturday, I walked out onto the pitch and I could see where my old season ticket was.
“I used to go with my old man, Edward, and I sent him a picture of the seats. Never did I think I’d be playing at Parkhead so I always try to enjoy it. I might give my dad a facetime from Hampden – we will see!
Josh Mullin scores against Hibs
“I actually speak to myself before every game and say, ‘Look, years ago this is where you wished you could play, now you have the opportunity’.
“You can go one of two ways. I can enjoy it or I can be a bag of nerves. I always try to enjoy it. I will 100 per cent have a chat to myself before the semi-final.
“I have played there before with Livingston against Queen’s Park and you do take a second to look around.
“But it’s a much bigger occasion on Sunday and even though fans can’t be there, we will enjoy what is a massive occasion for the club.”