Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna seeks cure for hamstring problems

Defender opens up on his injury-plagued past and explains how he aims to stay fit this season

Scott McKenna is injured in Aberdeen's Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Mirren in February
Scott McKenna is injured in Aberdeen's Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Mirren in February

The same raw honesty that Scott McKenna pours into his on-pitch endeavours, he displays in assessing his career. And when it comes to the Aberdeen centre-back’s ambitions for the campaign that kicked-off last weekend, he is unabashed about admitting he has to be better. And in one specific department: the 23-year-old recognises he has to be better at managing his body to avoid becoming a dreaded porcelain performer.

A torn hamstring in a Scottish Cup win over St Mirren on 29 February was his third such issue and fourth long-term injury in the past two seasons alone. The ailment appeared destined to leave McKenna on the sidelines for the rest of last season – and so miss Scotland’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final – before the Covid-19 shutdown a couple of weeks later sidelined all football ahead of the new Premiership season.

McKenna laments that he has a “real weakness” in the hamstring area that he must do everything in his power to address.

His inability to stand up to the rigours of an entire season has hampered his development since he was being talked about as a £7 million centre-back in 2018, when he captained his country. To that end, the player is adhering to a new conditioning programme in the knowledge that whatever he was doing before it simply 
wasn’t having the desired effect.

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“I want to be more robust,” he said. “I can’t keep breaking down 
every 10-15 games with my hamstrings.

“I just want to be fit and play as many games as I can. I have sat down with the physios, sport scientists and the medical team to put a plan together so I can get into the gym to keep up my strength work.

“Even if we have two or three games a week, I need to find ways to get into the gym at the right time to do the right exercises because I can’t keep doing what I have been doing before because I kept breaking down.

“We need to find that balance. Maybe, if I am not getting enough out of training I might need to do some more high-speed work just to keep on top of things. That is why we have sat down and put this plan together that will hopefully keep me fit.

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“I have torn my left hamstring twice or three times because the last time it had two tears in it. I have also torn the right one so there is a weakness there and I need to stay on top of things, maybe more than the other lads.

“When boys are in the gym I maybe need to look at working on my hamstrings to make sure they are feeling good.

“I have never torn it by flat out sprinting. The first one I blocked a shot against Rangers [in the opening game of the 2018-19 season] and that came on the back of the Burnley game [that went to extra-time in the Europa League].

“Maybe there was a bit of fatigue with 120 minutes down there. The other times I took a push in the back which put me in an unnatural position but there is no way, if you are getting pushed, you should be tearing your hamstring.

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“It was clear I have a weakness there. We have tried to identify that and worked on it in an attempt to limit the chances of it happening again.”

A natural source of concern, McKenna doesn’t want to let his hamstring issues gnaw away at him. “I did [worry] but I have played three or four 90 minutes now and I am starting to get the confidence back. I will also get that fitness and sharpness as well as the weeks go on and I can get my performance levels back up,” said the player, who was required to feel his way in the early stages of the opening day loss to Rangers on Saturday.

“I’ve spent too much time in the stands. If last season had finished, I would have been out [for] four-and a-half-months of it. That is way too much time. I also missed 10 or 11 games the season before through injuries and suspension. I have missed too many games and I need to be on the pitch far more this season.”

Not least because this is a huge season for the national side with the hope that the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final at home to Israel on 8 October will give way to a final against either Norway or Serbia away the following month as the national team bid to qualify for next summer’s delayed finals and end a near two-and-a-half decade exile from major tournaments.

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“There was no denying that I have been fortunate with the timing,” said McKenna, who will hope to make Steve Clarke’s squad for the Nations League games against Israel and Czech Republic in the first week of September.

“I got injured around Kilmarnock away and Hibs at home and they ended up being the only games I missed. I was expected to miss something like 15 games, including the Scotland games, but now I have a chance for the Scottish Cup semi-final [against Celtic, in three months] and for Scotland, although I know I will need to play well to get in Steve Clarke’s thoughts. That will only happen by playing well for Aberdeen.”

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