IT MAY have been less than ten minutes of action in a match which will quickly slip from the minds of most who witnessed it.
But for Gary Mackay-Steven, his late and brief appearance in Scotland’s goalless draw against the USA at Hampden on Friday night provided a memory he and his family will always cherish.
After twice being an unused substitute earlier this year, the Dundee United wide man finally made his senior Scotland debut. For Mackay-Steven’s parents and sister, who follow his career avidly, even a trip to one of his club games at Tannadice takes over four hours from their Thurso home.
The Scotland jersey from the 23-year-old’s first appearance for his country will now take pride of place in their living room. “It will definitely be getting hung up on the wall,” said the ever-smiling Mackay-Steven. “After being in and around the squad a few times, I was absolutely delighted to get on the pitch and win my first cap.
“It was a proud moment for me and my family. I’m over the moon. My family all travelled down from Thurso to be in the stands at Hampden. They are my biggest supporters and they will be even more proud than me.
“It was especially good for my dad who even travelled to Croatia in June, just to make sure he was there if I made by debut. It didn’t happen then but he was at Hampden on Friday, along with my mum and my sister, which was nice. As I say, they are my biggest fans and come to most of my games.
“Hopefully now I can try to get more minutes under my belt and really push on and stake my claim for a place in the Scotland team. I didn’t know I was going to get on against the Americans. I was just hopeful.
“Even the last few times I have been away with the squad, it has just been a case of trying to stay patient. The boys that have been playing have done so well. I just had to bide my time and if I got the chance I had to show I am good enough to play at this level.
“I felt excited more than nervous when I got on to the pitch at Hampden. When you start out as a footballer, it is your dream to represent your country. It was all a bit of a blur but it is nice to have finally done it and got the monkey off my back.”
Mackay-Steven is now hopeful of more substantial involvement when Scotland take on Norway in Molde tomorrow night.
“I have been patient so it would be great to get a chance to get a few more minutes and show what I can do,” he added. “I’m feeling confident and can’t wait for the next game.”
Mackay-Steven is working under three former Scotland internationals at Dundee United and believes his all-round game has been improved by the advice of manager Jackie McNamara and his assistants Simon Donnelly and Darren Jackson this season.
In particular, McNamara has demanded improvement in Mackay-Steven’s diligence when it comes to tracking back and lending support to his defence. “Jackie, Simon and Darren have really helped me,” he added. “The defensive side of my game was probably the weakest part of my game but they have really helped me with that. I am delighted to be working and developing under them. Long may it continue. If you want to make it to the top level you need to be able to defend as well as attack.”
Mackay-Steven believes his senior international breakthrough can also be an inspiration for some of United’s much-vaunted emerging youngsters.
“Hopefully that is the case,” he said. “We have such a talented bunch at United. There are a lot of really good players coming through and playing in the first team. It is a great time for us at United. They are doing well at their various age groups for Scotland so hopefully they can kick on as well.
“We have the captain of the under-19s in Darren Petrie and there are a lot of boys in the under-21s as well, including Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Gauld, which bodes well for the future.”