It would be a landmark for Kieran Tierney just to sit in the stand for Scotland’s friendly at home to Denmark a week on Tuesday. The call-up for the Celtic left-back will add two more firsts to a remarkable list of such moments the 18-year-old has racked up this season.
Tierney spent the first four years of his life in the Isle of Man, before growing up in Lanarkshire. Throughout his formative years he never experienced what he will next week. The youngster is not only in line for a first senior cap – the visit of the Danes will represent the first Scotland game he has attended.
He will soak up the experience no doubt. Which could be considered apposite considering he was in the bath at the club’s Lennoxtown training centre when he heard he would feature in the imminent friendly double-header that begins with the encounter way to the Czech Republic on Thursday.
All of which represents more of the fast-being-filled career boxes for Tierney to tick with pride. “Definitely,” he said. “My debut for Celtic, debut at Parkhead, European debut, they’ve all come for me in the space of six months so I’m delighted. And an international call-up.”
The player sustained an ankle knock in Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock yesterday and had to be substituted before half-time, but is expected to be fit to join up with the Scotland squad.
Scotland had shown little enthusiasm for Tierney ahead of Ronny Deila pitching him in at Celtic last year. “I played half an hour when I was 15, just in a friendly, but they didn’t think I was good enough obviously,” he recalled. “It wasn’t until last season and earlier this season really that I got called back up for the under-19s. I was looking forward to going away with them. The campaign in Ireland went well for us with a few good results. We’re a good team with good players and I believe we’ll do the job.
“The first team’s a big jump up and I’m delighted. I’ve only ever watched games on television but I’ve always supported Scotland.”
No jump has appeared onerous for Tierney across the past six months, the aggressive full-back achieving an impressive consistency. The task for any youngster, though, is doing so over years, not months, and the teenager is well aware of that.
“That’s probably one of your main focuses as a young player – to stay in. I’ve not done that yet,” he said.
“Every time you see your name on the teamsheet you’re still buzzing. Obviously you’ve got [Emilio] Izaguirre there and I’m still young, so you’re thinking he could be playing this game. Every time I’ve been there I’ve been delighted. It’s obviously brilliant. It’s hard to believe; me and my family still can’t believe it. You just need to take it in your stride, not get big-headed and keep your feet on the ground.”
Tierney is modest about his Scotland call in the face of Aberdeen’s Graeme Shinnie and Rangers’ Lee Wallace failing to make Strachan’s selections for the Czech and Denmark games. “They’ve been playing top level for a long time now but the manager said in his interviews that he knows what they can do, whereas I’m young and he’s giving me a shot. So I hope I can take it,” he said.
At club level he has grasped his opportunity bear-hug style. And his ability to cope with the rough and tumble is cited by Deila as crucial to Tierney becoming a first pick. A skelf of a boy, considerable conditioning work was required on him, as the Celtic manager concedes. “He started to show up well in training but he couldn’t cope with the load we had,” the Norwegian said. “He had a lot of cramps in his calfs in the beginning, so we had to build him up to be able to play every week. He has been working really hard, he has been curious to learn.
“In every training session he puts everything in and has developed all through the season. I’m very happy for him and I think he deserves everything he has achieved.”
Tierney’s success has been underpinned by the fact that he is a defender’s defender in that he is a voracious, and adept, tackler. “He’s a different type of player because he’s so good defensively,” the Norwegian said of a player who has been receiving guidance from one of the all-time best Scottish full-backs: Celtic backroom member Danny McGrain. “A lot of players are very good offensively – especially full backs – but we have to teach them to defend. This guy is defensively fantastic and he can develop offensively. He has legs to come and technique, but when you can defend it’s a fantastic bonus for him and for everybody. He loves to tackle. His timing is good, he’s quick and sharp.
“It’s much easier to develop a young full back when he already has these defensive qualities. To learn to tackle and to put your head and body in front of shots is a mentality that can be hard to change. When you have that, it’s easier to learn the other things. Young boys tend to focus on attack. It’s more fun to attack. Players look at the likes of [Lionel] Messi, they don’t look at [John] Terry. They think about what they’re going to do going forward.”
In career terms if not in playing instinct, Tierney is certainly bombing on.