IT was one of the feelgood stories of Gary Bowyer’s first full season in charge of Blackburn Rovers.

Sixteen-year-old Connor Mahoney, just weeks after signing for the club he had supported all his life, made his debut on one of the biggest stages in English football, and in doing so became the third youngest player in Rovers’ rich history.


But Mahoney’s substitute appearance at the Etihad Stadium, in the FA Cup third-round replay defeat to Manchester City in January 2014, remains the only one he has made for Bowyer’s senior side.

Like many players his age his form has fluctuated since then. He is, however, creeping back into the first-team picture.

He was part of the Rovers squad for last Saturday’s 3-0 win at home to Charlton Athletic and the 2-2 draw at QPR before that, and although he did not make it on to the bench for either match, it was reward for the fine form he has shown recently for the club’s Under-21 team.

Blackburn-born Mahoney, now 18, scored brilliant braces in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup success at Barrow and the U21 Premier League victory at home to West Ham United.

Rovers boss Bowyer admits the winger, who was signed from Accrington Stanley, has more work and learning to do.

But he would like nothing more than to see Mahoney make the step up, not least because he has the club at heart, something which Bowyer has given great importance to when putting together his on and off the field teams.

“I’ve been here 11 years and you look at when I took over it was important that I brought Blackburn people back to the club,” said Bowyer, who is in his third full season as boss, having previously been in charge of its U18 and U21 sides.

“I managed to do that with Eric Kinder taking over the academy and we’re starting to see the improvements there with one or two pushing.

“We also brought John Filan and Damien Johnson in, ex-players, as you need that connection. Look at Manchester United with Ryan Giggs.

“Craig Short, I brought him straight in because he was ex-Blackburn and he’s got an affinity with the club and he cares just that little bit more.

“The supporters can relate to them and as a result of that you get how much it means to these people passed on to the players.

“At youth level and reserve level it’s vitally important, and Connor is one. He’s a Blackburn fan, we knew that at the time, and Eric said, ‘listen, we’ve got to get this lad’, we brought him in, he’s had a taste early doors and like every young player he’s had his ups and downs in terms of form and learning about life and having loads of tattoos.

“Slowly but surely they get back to playing football again. At this moment in time Connor has been doing that.

“He’s still got a hell of a lot more work to do and a hell of a lot more learning to do, as a lot of them have, but he’s going in the right direction.

“He needs to keep working hard and there would be nothing better for us than him breaking through and be another one to follow Grant Hanley, Jason Lowe, Adam Henley, Josh Morris before he left, David Raya and Ryan Nyambe.

“It’s vitally important that we produce these young players and it’s something I’ve been aware of for all my time here.

“Values of the club are important. You see a lot of clubs lose their identity with bringing in various different people and I think it’s important we as a club know what our identity is and we have people that buy into that.

“The staff that we have here are very passionate about the football club and it’s passed on to the young players. In this day and age I think that’s vitally important.”