STEVIE MAY has achieved so much in his first full season in St Johnstone's first team that it seems only natural to wonder just what he might have achieved had they unleashed him earlier.
A local boy, May came through the ranks at the Perth club and made his debut at 16 but it is only this term that he has been given the chance to show fully what he can do. He has not disappointed.
Now 21, May can look back on a campaign that has brought 25 goals to date - including a Europa League strike against Rosenborg - a call-up to the Scotland under-21 squad, and now recognition from his peers in the form of a nomination for the Cheque Centre/PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year Award.
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The season could yet end with him pocketing a Scottish Cup winner's medal ahead of a summer when he will likely have his pick of any number of clubs. His is a star that is very much in the ascendancy.
May, though, has had to be patient, something that has not always come naturally to him. He was sent out on loan not once but twice, thriving both times. He thrashed in 19 goals to help Alloa Athletic win the third division two seasons ago, then showed he could perform at a higher level by scoring 26 times for Hamilton Academical in last year's first division. It was apparent midway through that campaign that he was top-flight material but a call to the then St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas didn't produce the answer May was looking for.
Only when Lomas departed last summer, and was replaced by Tommy Wright, did the player finally receive the assurances he sought from his hometown club. That confidence boost has led to a stellar season.
"I asked to come back to Saints last January to get a chance, but that was knocked back," he revealed. "Once the new gaffer took over he assured me I'd get a chance. Looking back it was ideal that I was on loan.
"I wasn't in favour at Saints but I worked my way from the third division to the first and now here I am back at Saints. My whole goal when I was away on loan was to come back and play first-team football for St Johnstone. The aim was to do that as quickly as I could. I scored 11 goals in the last month of last season and that gave me a boost of confidence coming back to Saints."
No sooner had May returned, however, than a number of clubs were lining up intent on taking him away again. Peterborough United have been the most fervent of suitors but others, such as Preston North End, Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers, have also been credited with an interest at various points. The backing from Wright and the possibility of regular first-team football were enough for May to rule out another move.
"For me it doesn't matter what level you are playing at - as long as you're playing you will improve - and I was happy to stay at St Johnstone," he said. "I spoke to the boss and he said he would give me a chance and it was then up to me to take it.
"That was the reassurance I needed and [the decision to stay] would be justified, certainly, if we could win the Scottish Cup. By January I'd had half a good season but I always wanted to see it out until at least the end of this one. I'll finish the season and then take it from there."
And of the interest from other clubs? "There were never any serious discussions," May said. "I was happy where I was and if I'd left and not played then I wouldn't have developed."
In the afterglow of St Johnstone's Scottish Cup win over Aberdeen last weekend - in which May scored both goals - there was even talk of the player extending his contract.
Given his burgeoning talent, any new deal would likely be signed primarily to enhance his transfer value rather than with the genuine hope that he would consider laying down long-term roots but May diplomatically suggested he would give it some consideration.
"I'll obviously listen to whatever they say," he said. "I have a lot of time for everyone at the club. They took me on as a young boy and I've supported them all my life. I haven't spoken to them yet, but it sounds as if they want to speak to me soon and I'm happy to meet and talk."