THE measure of a father's love is the sacrifices he makes for his children. It's the warm hug or gently-applied sticking plaster to a scuffed knee, it's the waiting car at the end of another after-school club or the words of encouragement when life takes an unexpected, precipitous turn.

John Herron knows this better than most.

When Herron's parents split up, he went to live with his father. It was an amicable parting but it meant a significant change in routine for John Sr; he remained the devoted dad. John Sr worked two, sometimes three, jobs at a time to make ends meet. Once when John Jr needed a lift to a tournament, his dad was refused permission by his boss to take the night off. Herron the elder promptly told his employer, a baker, to stuff the job.

“I have always been hugely inspired by my dad,” he says. “He used to work on the buses, he used to work in a bakery, he's a postman now for Royal Mail. Even at 25, everything I do is for my mum and dad. I would give my right and left hand if my dad could have a better life. He gave everything up so that I could try to accomplish my dream. He didn't know if I was going to do it but he was willing to give up his whole life to try to make it possible.”

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If that meant taking paternal duties to extremes, then John Sr had no qualms about bending the rules.

“My dad used to drive the big First Bus, it was the No.262. It used to run past the main road in Coatbridge and it would go to the street behind Barrowfield. He would pick me up and I used to sit in the driver's cockpit with him and he would drive me in.

“The bus would be full and my dad used to take a detour so that my he could drop me off outside. He would change the route. It used to always be the same people on the bus so it got to the point where they would say 'Are we going off route again the day?' You know, they'd joke about it and my dad would be like 'Yup, we need to get the wee man to training.”

Growing up in Coatbridge he was good mates with Tony Watt. They were friends at St Andrew's High in the town. He recalls that Watt didn't play football at school but had been doing “all right” at Airdrie. But when Watt texted him out of the blue one day to tell them that he was going to Celtic for a trial, Herron still thought he was joking.

“Tony was a bit of a nutter, he was a loose cannon. One day he messaged me and said 'John, I'm coming on trial with youse'. And I was like, 'ha, ha, ha, what's up? And he sent a message back saying 'no, seriously I'm coming on trial with youse, can you give me a lift?'”

Fast forward 12 months and the pair found themselves on the bench on what Herron remembers as his most memorable night at Celtic as Neil Lennon masterminded a 2-1 Champions League victory over Barcelona, Watt famously clambering off the bench to score the winner.

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“We were looking around us saying 'this is mad',” he says. “We're from Coatbridge, massive Celtic fans, we used to sit next to each other in our maths class thinking 'we're not meant to be here'. When you come from Coatbridge, it's either living on the streets or in jail. It's not the best upbringing. But that night was incredible.”

Herron was feted as the next big thing at Parkhead. He came through in the same batch of youngsters as Callum McGregor and was so good he was playing in the Under-10s aged eight.

Those who worked with him at Celtic recall a player who played in every position, mostly lined up against the smallest player on the opposing side to cover for the age difference and his lack of size. One former coach suggested that he played “as if he could look down on the pitch”. None other than Tommy Burns predicted that Herron would have little problem making the first team.

“I was really close with Tommy just before he died and he always used to tell me something that stuck with me. He said 'John, the easiest part for you will be to get to the first team but the hardest bit will be staying there'."

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And so it proved. Under Neil Lennon, Herron was always around the first team. His debut came in 2012 in a 4-0 win over Ross County at Celtic Park as a second-half substitute for Georgios Samaras. He says even now he is served little reminders of that night, a text here, a picture there. He almost scored as the game neared its end and jokes that he replays it 10 times a day in his head. He recalls the moment with such clarity that I'm not altogether sure whether it is a joke.

“There's a picture of me slipping and the ball has just left my left feet. I'm on my own, I hit it first time, there's a man on the inside of me but he's not getting near me and as I've hit it, I've planted my foot and it's slipped. I ended up hitting the bar. I always think 'see if I just stayed on my feet and scored'.”

It's tempting to suggest that this was a sliding doors moment for Herron's Celtic career but, in truth, his fate at the club was decided by injuries.

“We went in for training on the Sunday after the Ross County game. I think it was Anthony Stokes who played a ball down the line and I ran on to it, obviously full of beans having just made my debut and I went to cross it. There are grass banks at Lennoxtown and as I crossed it I kept running and ended up running on to the bank and I rolled my ankle, it cracked and I was out for six weeks.”

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A litany of injuries followed and trying to break into a midfield containing Victor Wanyama, Scott Brown, Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley proved an insurmountable challenge. Then Ronny Deila succeeded Lennon and the Norwegian had his own ideas.

Sating Herron's appetite for first-time football came by way of spells at Cowdenbeath, Blackpool and Dunfermline but again injuries struck. He has no ligaments in his right ankle, he has torn his meniscus three times, his most recent injury was a double hernia which required an operation which might have ended his career.

“You have to have ability but you have to have luck and I had bad luck. I was getting there, I was getting closer and closer. I was in with the first team and then bang I would be out for eight weeks. I was a young boy and then bang I did my knee twice. I was out for six to eight months two times. People talk about goals in their career, my goal every year was to stay fit.”

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Today Herron plays in the Irish League. Like Watt, who yesterday signed for Motherwell, he has a new club. On the day we speak he has just completed a move from Glentoran to Larne. It used to be said of the County Antrim port that the best thing to come out of it was the Stranraer ferry. But the football club is a rising force in the province, backed by the financial clout of Kenny Bruce, the man who built the Purple Bricks empire. Herron says he is buoyed by the challenge.

“Where the club is going and where it is trying to get to is very exciting. They're probably the best footballing team in the league this year and that suits my style. We're sixth this year but we can definitely push on next year.”

But his first loves will always be his dad, followed closely by the Hoops.

“I won two league medals and I'm probably one of the most decorated players at youth level. I was sad to leave yes but it was probably best for me to move on, I had to play. Everyone at Celtic would say 'John Herron is going to be this or that' and I was ahead in the pecking of some players who are there now. But my dad used to say 'it's easy to say something, it's hard to do it'. People have different paths.”

John Herron Sr's bus journeys taught his son that valuable lesson.