The renaissance of Barrie McKay as a Rangers player has been one of the stories of the season, transforming from a struggling loanee into a dynamic, impactful star of the Mark Warburton revolution.
However, the 21-year-old winger has revealed he had to endure online abuse ahead of the 17 April Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final from those claiming that he was not equipped to handle such an occasion.
A man-of-the-match performance topped by a stunning goal as Rangers impressively outplayed Celtic for long spells before eventually prevailing on penalties was his perfect riposte.
McKay, nominated along with Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Hibs pair Jason Cummings and John McGinn for PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year, said: “The goal in the Old Firm match was probably the biggest moment in my career so far. I think even if I do score a better goal I don’t think I’ll score one on a bigger occasion.
“Before the game I was getting a wee bit on Twitter saying ‘you can’t perform on the big stage’ and whatever. I felt I proved the critics wrong.
“If anybody comes to me on Twitter, I take it with a pinch of salt and laugh about it. I quite enjoy reading the abuse I get online, it is good comedy.
“I’ve had people telling me I should come off it or not to read it. But it shows you I must be doing something right if someone is taking the time of day to come for you.
“Surprisingly, since the goal, I’ve probably had less. I’ve even had Celtic fans saying ‘good goal – a shame it was against us’.”
Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon was not so complimentary, saying that it was perhaps the type of goal that McKay would be unlikely to repeat.
The Rangers winger disagrees. He said: “If he thinks it’s a one-off strike, well I’ve done it against Hibs and also earlier in my career against Alloa and against Hibs in the League Cup as well.
“It’s not as if it’s the first strike I’ve hit from outside the box. It’s just unfortunate that’s what he thinks.”
McKay recognises that Rangers have dropped a level since their golden fortnight when then they won the Championship, the Petrofac Cup and beat Celtic in that semi-final.
They lost to Hibs, came from behind to draw with Alloa and then on Tuesday lost to Livingston, who will fight in the play-offs to retain their Championship status.
However, he feels confident Rangers will be able to rise to the required level to take on Hibs in the 21 May Scottish Cup Final even though they will have no competitive action and Alan Stubbs’ side could play as many as five huge matches.
McKay said: “It is a hard one. We go into every game wanting to win and perform for the fans who are paying their money for the travel and tickets and we want to give them a performance worthy of that.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that in our last couple of games. We have still been creating chances but just not burying them.
“It could be difficult. We don’t have a game for three weeks and Hibs could have games all the way to the final, but it could work both ways.
“Either the rest will do us good or the games will do them good.”
McKay is one of only a small group of players who have remained with Rangers from the pre-insolvency days right through to their return to the Premiership and it will be a special moment for him when they open up in the top flight on 6 August.
He added: “I am able to say I stayed with them through the journey and made it back into the first league game of the season. It will be a hard league and we are going up to challenge. We believe in ourselves and our manager and [assistant] David Weir to help us mount that challenge.”