IT IS little wonder that Russell Martin doesn’t want this season to end. For Scotland’s sake, it’s just as well.
As Gordon Strachan’s squad gathered at their Renfrewshire base yesterday, Norwich City captain Martin arrived in buoyant mood.
Just over a week ago, the 29-year-old defender led his club to a memorable victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley to secure a return to the English Premier League next season.
Martin will now be a key figure in Strachan’s plans for the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday week.
Preparations will begin in earnest when the squad train for the first time at Hampden this morning ahead of the warm-up friendly against Qatar at Easter Road this Friday night.
For Martin, it is an extension to what has already been a gruelling campaign with club and country but he insists fatigue, either physically or mentally, will not be a factor.
“It culminated in one of the best days of my whole life and my footballing career”Russell Martin
“Being successful is a great cure for tiredness but I’m genuinely feeling in good shape,” said Martin.
“The season ended amazingly well for me with an immense day at Wembley. Before that, it was incredibly intense. We had the play-off semi-final against our biggest rivals Ipswich which added to the situation, but given how we approached the games and how we prepared I think we deserved to win promotion.
“It culminated in one of the best days of my whole life and my footballing career. It’s still not quite fully sunk in to be honest, but I’ve joined up with Scotland with a spring in my step, I know that much.
“We had a little party right after the game but I’ve not actually seen any of the Norwich lads since. But when I walked into the Scotland team hotel today, one of the first people I spotted was my clubmate Steven Whittaker and we just stood there beaming.
“It was nice to have a little chat about it because I’ve not actually watched any of it back on TV yet. I want to do that one day, I want to sit down and relive it all.
“In some ways the last week has been a little bit of a come-down but then at the same time I’m buzzing.
“I think that can only be a good thing with the big game against Ireland coming up. Mentally, Steven and I are really fresh and physically as well we’re in good shape. We were playing at a really high intensity just last week so that will only help us in terms of preparation for Dublin.
“I think a few of the Scotland lads had the option to stay away for an extra few days – Steven and I certainly had that option – but you want to meet up as soon as possible. As a player, I want to look back on my career with as many caps as possible. But when you’re building up to such an important game you want to get together with the lads and spend as much time together as possible.
“It’s a good thing to have the friendly against Qatar first. We have a few lads who haven’t played for a number of weeks now and it will also give the gaffer a chance to reacquaint himself with a few of the lads and maybe try a few different things. But physically it will help and hopefully mentally too we can get a boost from a good performance and result.”
Having beaten the Irish 1-0 at Celtic Park last November, it is generally considered that a draw in Dublin would represent a significant boost to Scotland’s chances of reaching next year’s finals in France.
But Martin expects that he and his team-mates will be under orders from Strachan to target all three points once more.
“With this manager and these players I don’t think there’s any way we’ll go there playing for a draw,” he said.
“Firstly we’ll look for a good performance but hopefully if we can get that the result will follow. I just don’t see the gaffer approaching this game any differently from the games we’ve had in the group until now.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, whether it’s been Germany in their own back yard or to Poland, we’ve gone there to try and win. We’ve had a game plan and thankfully so far it’s gone quite well for us. Hopefully that’ll be the case against Ireland but it won’t be a case of us defending and trying to nick a point.
“I think there is still a long way to go in the group. But I think Ireland will maybe see it as a game they need to win. But given how tight the group is, all the games are huge now. We both want the three points and we’ll both be going for that.”
Meanwhile, uncapped Kilmarnock goalkeeper Craig Samson has been called into the Scotland squad after Dundee’s Scott Bain withdrew due to a knee injury.
The 31-year-old Samson has not played at senior level but earned six caps for Scotland’s Under-21 side.