‘Look at Linfield’ caught up with highly-rated prospect Braiden Graham this week after the young forward picked up the Man of the Match award for his performance in Monday night’s 1-1 draw against Larne at Windsor Park. It was Graham’s first start and he certainly made an impression, although he was disappointed with the result which effectively ended the Blues’ title hopes.
“It was the tough game that we expected from Larne. I thought we played well and had a few chances to take three points, so I felt we were unlucky to draw. In fairness, Larne have been good all season and we just fell short in the end which is obviously disappointing.
“I felt I had a good game. When I was told I was starting I knew I had to perform, but I had a mentality where I felt I had nothing to lose and I went out and played my own game. It’s unreal for me to be starting in a match of that magnitude and I am very thankful to the manager for the opportunities he’s given me and the trust he has shown in me.”
Graham became Linfield’s youngest ever player when he made his first team debut away to Dungannon Swifts in March 2023, coming on as a substitute at just 15 years and 137 days old.
“I made my debut at 15 last year and I’ve also played a lot of u18 and u20s football at a young age, so I feel like I’m ready to push on now and take the next step in senior football. I have been a Linfield supporter since I was a young age, I used to come and watch them play, so if that’s the case then it’s unreal for me to hold that record and something I am proud of.”
In a breakthrough campaign for the young striker from Ballygowan, he scored a huge goal as a substitute late in extra time away to Larne in the League Cup – a competition the Blues went on to win, but wouldn’t have without Graham’s goal. He also dispatched an excellent penalty in the shoot-out in Larne that night. The Northern Ireland U17 International scored his second senior goal for Linfield in a 6-0 win over Newry City in March, so it’s been an amazing season for the 16-year-old, and he says he’s just trying to take everything in.
“To be a part of a Linfield squad challenging on all fronts has been a fantastic experience. We are going to fall short in the League but we won the League Cup and we are in the Irish Cup Final, so it’s still been a good season in my opinion. I’ve learnt so much this year from the strikers and the gaffer, who’s obviously an ex Northern Ireland striker who had a good career. Training with and playing for the first team has taught me so much. It’s important to soak up everything they tell you and be willing to learn. They have all the experience, whereas it’s all ahead of me.
“From playing a lot for the Swifts this year I would also say Michael Gault has been brilliant for me. He is a club legend here, so obviously he knows what is required. He pushes you on and he expects a lot from me, but I love that and I use that to try and improve as a player.”
Braiden joined the Linfield Academy just shy of eight years ago from a junior team in Newtownards called East Coast Strikers. With mounting speculation tipping him for a high-profile move to England, he said it will be sad to move on but has nothing but appreciation and praise for Linfield.
“It will be sad to leave Linfield because I have been here for so long and have a lot of good friends at the club, but I have to take that next step now by moving to England, but I’ll miss Linfield and will always support them.
“Linfield have a great Academy and over the last few years they have developed so many great players who have transferred to clubs across the water and are now doing really well at their clubs. They continue to produce a lot of talent and I would recommend the Linfield Academy for any ambitious young footballer, one hundred percent.”
In closing, Graham spoke about this afternoon’s match against Cliftonville which he is hoping to play a part in.
“At Linfield you want to win every game and that will still be the case against Cliftonville this week. We will prepare for a tough match from them. The league might be gone but you still want to finish on a positive note. Of course, like any player should, I’d love to be involved. Playing for Linfield at Windsor Park is a brilliant experience no matter what they circumstances are.”
Well done to Braiden on his contribution to Linfield this season at such a young age and, hopefully, this is just the start for the level-headed youngster who shows so much promise.