What could possibly make a week already scheduled to end with a Scottish Cup final appearance at a stadium which sits in the neighbourhood where you grew up get any better?
Try a call-up for a Scotland squad ahead of a vital World Cup qualifier against England at the same iconic football ground. Mark Reynolds was not prepared to allow anything, certainly not a pre-booked break in Tenerife, get in the way of this opportunity.
The Aberdeen defender was asked whether he’d had to change any holiday plans. “If by change you mean cancel, then yes,” said Reynolds yesterday. “I was due to go away and so I’d booked Tenerife but it’s just one of these things. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Playing England at Hampden is something you’d cancel your holiday for.”
While Reynolds has been called up for Scotland duty before, he has yet to make an international appearance. This, he admits, has become a stick to beat him with by merciless Pittodrie dressing-room jokers. Now 30, Reynolds is relishing the thought of a potentially gilded fortnight when he can pick up a Scottish Cup winner’s medal against Celtic on Saturday, then an elusive first cap. “I think I’d wear it in!” he smiled at the thought of finally silencing the mockers among his Aberdeen team-mates.
It would be especially sweet for Reynolds, who as good as grew up at Hampden Park. His father, Brian, was a coach at Queen’s Park in long-time manager Eddie Hunter’s regime in the 1980s and early 1990s and Reynolds would often go for kickabouts on the famous turf.
Cruelly, especially having spoken eloquently about what it would mean to play in a final at Hampden, a kickabout in the warm-up is what he was limited to in November, when he was an unused substitute in Aberdeen’s 3-0 League Cup final defeat by Celtic.
Now restored to the starting XI he has caught the eye of Gordon Strachan once again. Reynolds was last called up by Scotland two summers ago for games against Qatar and Republic of Ireland just before being forced into a long absence after breaking his shoulder in a Europa League tie against Shkendija.
“I was a wee bit worried I’d fallen off the radar,” he admitted yesterday. “When you guys (reporters) kept saying I’d fallen off the radar I did think it. It’s one of these things. Gordon Greer didn’t start playing until he was into the twilight of his career. I’m only 30, but I feel like I’m about 60. I got called a veteran for the first time in the paper the other day. But it’s one of these things, defenders are supposed to reach their peak at this age.”
Reynolds certainly deserves to enjoy this late blooming in his career. He has experienced the full range of emotions at Pittodrie, where he signed shortly after Aberdeen hit the bottom of the league after a 2-0 defeat by Kilmarnock in December 2011. Craig Brown helped ignite an upturn in fortunes and now Derek McInnes has taken the Pittodrie side to the brink of glory.
While Aberdeen have been second best to a record-breaking Celtic team in the league and League Cup so far this season, Saturday provides the opportunity to seal one of the greatest days in the club’s history with a victory.
If so, it would complete a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the club after slumping to the basement of the top flight just five years ago.
“That was just before I came to save the day!” joked Reynolds, who still has one year left of his contract. “All joking aside, I came just after (Aberdeen went bottom).”
Indeed, when Reynolds arrived, initially on loan from Sheffield Wednesday and in time to make his debut in a gritty 0-0 home draw with Kilmarnock, Aberdeen had risen to ninth. But it was still a long way from the free-flowing football enjoyed by the club’s fans now and showcased as recently as Sunday’s 6-0 away win over Partick Thistle.
“Their aim (then) was just to secure SPL football and get up to the middle of the table and potentially push for top six,” recalled Reynolds. “Now we are looking for Europe every year and second or third is an absolute minimum, probably second the way things are just now is an absolute minimum. Anything less than that would be disappointing.
“I came in just before the gaffer (Derek McInnes) came,” said Reynolds, who won a League Cup winner’s medal with Aberdeen in 2014. “Craig Brown steadied the ship. I think the financial side of the place, the stability of the club was a big draw for a few of the boys. Craig Brown (left) made three or four good signings.
“Now the gaffer has come in and added to that. The team is playing good football and is being successful. It is a great period for the club. We have attracted good players who we have got the best out of. A few of them now have served their time and are going to move on, as happens.”
Although Reynolds has become such a mainstay, transition is a feature at any club. The defender knows it will be hard to replace Niall McGinn and Ryan Jack, who has been stripped of the captaincy after rejecting a new contract. But he is confident the progress under McInnes will continue.
“The team doesn’t really rely on individuals up here, it is more about the collective, about the team,” said Reynolds. “Without wanting to sound horrible, I think we can cope.”