IT wasn’t so long ago that Mouhamed ‘Sena’ Niang hadn’t kicked a ball in the professional set-up. A loan move to Montrose last season gave the defender his first taste of SPFL football but since returning to Firhill last summer, the 21-year-old hasn’t looked back.

Sena’s rapid rise, from untested squad player to first-team regular, has been startling. Injuries to the likes of Tam O’Ware, Ciaran McKenna and Rhys Breen handed the youngster his chance and he has seized it firmly.

Six clean sheets in seven outings is a record a defender at any level of the game would be proud of, never mind one taking his first steps in full-time football. Add to that a player of the month award at Firhill for his displays last month and it is clear why the Jags moved quickly to tie the centre-back to the club on a longer deal a few weeks ago.

The man himself admits that he didn’t expect to feature as heavily as he has this season – but Sena says he always knew he would get his chance under Ian McCall.

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“It was good to get [the new contract] all sorted out,” said Niang, who was speaking after collecting the club's McCrea Mortgages Player of the Month award for December, voted for by supporters.

“We had been in talks for months so I’m happy to get it done. It just means I’ve got that taken care of and I can kick on.”

“The gaffer has believed in me because the centre-backs have been injured but he trusts me in that position. So he definitely has belief in me.

“My loan last season at Montrose done me the world of good. I knew that I would come back and have a chance because the gaffer had spoken to me before we went into lockdown. When I came back, I did well so I gave myself a chance. I feel as though I’ve done not too bad so it’s exciting just now.

“This season I didn’t think I would have played as many games as I have. I did believe there would come a time when I would get my opportunity – I just didn’t think it would happen so quick.

“Going to Montrose was very good because I hadn’t played any senior games before. So yeah, things over the last year haven’t been going too bad for me.”

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Sena’s route into professional football as been anything but straightforward. After catching the eye at Pollok in the Juniors, he earned a move to Maryhill. His initial registration with Thistle was held up by red tape and for a while, the defender was able to train with the reserves but wasn’t allowed to compete in matches.

That difficult period feels like an age ago for Sena now, and he admits that the bureaucracy was frustrating on occasion as he awaited the green light for his work permit. But he believes his time at Pollok – competing against fully grown men in a physical and competitive environment – gave him the perfect grounding in the sport.

“That time was very good – I was only 17,” Sena recalled. “You see the way I play – it’s definitely done me the world of good playing against physical strikers and it definitely helps in League One too. It’s really helped.

“I used to play against guys in their late thirties, mid-thirties, guys that had played senior football that were on their way back down – it was different ages of guys, it just depends. I played mostly against guys in their thirties.

“Playing against older guys definitely makes you better with things like game intelligence. It makes you a better player because they’ll maybe try to funnel you into areas they want to go. You’ll make mistakes here and there but you just learn from it and move on.

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“It [the work permit application process] was frustrating for me but I always just tried to get my head down and keep working hard. I was always training and hoping that something would come out of it.

“This season has been great. Even last season, playing first team football – I know how far I’ve come but there’s still a long way to go. I don’t want to settle for this. I’m happy to be getting games and experience under my belt.”

Partick Thistle's Player of the Month Awards for season 2020/21 are proudly sponsored by McCrea Mortgages - visit to find out more.