There was a ferocious response on Twitter. McKenna has barely tweeted since though he remains in the position and he was unrepentant yesterday. “It’s a great golf course,” he said.
But he has resisted the need to retaliate which is something he wished he was able to do earlier this year following a tangle with Alfredo Morelos. McKenna kicked out and joined the Rangers striker in walking down the tunnel a few minutes before half-time in Aberdeen’s 4-2 defeat in February. McKenna admits he is one of several opponents who have tried to provoke a reaction from Morelos.
“I actually tried to wind him up by having a little niggle, but I didn’t realise how raised my leg was,” he said. “It was up near his head so I couldn’t argue with that [sending off]. It’s up to me to remain calm in those situations, even when they are trying to wind me up.”
He’s been well warned. Not only is the Morelos incident a lesson, so too is what occurred during the Old Firm derby when the same Rangers striker threw out an arm at Scott Brown having had his ankles clipped by the Celtic skipper. The reaction likely cost Rangers the game since Morelos was red carded once more, this time after barely half an hour.
Aberdeen must therefore be heedful of the need to keep 11 men on the pitch if at all possible when facing Celtic in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final. They have already lost skipper Graeme Shinnie due to suspension and, as stand-in captain, McKenna knows he needs to lead by example and be sure to avoid unnecessary flash points.
“You can try and wind your opponent up but you can’t let it get the better of you, like I did when I reacted against Rangers,” he said. “If they are going to have a nibble back at you then you have to try and let it slide. It’s all part of the game, but I will learn from that and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
While there’s a fine line between minor provocation and being labelled the aggressor it’s still often worth trying to needle an opponent, providing it remains within the rules. As a centre-half who takes his fair share of knocks from strikers, it would be a dereliction of duties if McKenna didn’t try to give something back.
“I don’t intentionally go out looking for it, but if you have an opportunity to try and get in someone’s head or wind them up a little bit I think you’d be stupid not to take it because other players will be quick enough to do it to you if they sense that weakness,” he argued.
“If you’re not overstepping the mark and someone reacts the way a couple of the Rangers players did then… you’ve really not done anything wrong. It’s up to them to try and control their temper and stay on the pitch. You’re well within your rights to try and get a little edge.”
But what is out of order is over-egging a celebration. Scott Brown was accused of this following the win over Rangers as was Mikael Lustig after Celtic’s Betfred Cup final win over Aberdeen in November. The Swede seemed to make a bee-line towards 19-year-old midfielder Lewis Ferguson seconds before the final whistle sounded although he later claimed he thought the whistle had already gone. Either way Shinnie later accused Lustig and Brown, who was also involved, of being disrespectful. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes spent several minutes debating the matter with Lustig on the pitch afterwards.
“That was a wee bit disappointing,” said McKenna. “He was right in Fergie’s face, a 19-year-old boy. Lustig’s an experienced player, there was absolutely no need to do it.
“They had won the cup, they had beaten us and to try and rub it into someone that young, who hadn’t done anything wrong, I didn’t think that was right.”
McKenna might have been on the other side of the argument had speculation linking him with Celtic earlier this season resulted in a move going through. He has also been reported to be interesting clubs in England after a stellar rise from Ayr United reserves to first-choice for Aberdeen and Scotland.
“You have just got to try and concentrate on Aberdeen as much as you can,” he said. “As much as it is nice to have people talking about you and putting offers in for you when nothing happens there is nothing to be talked about. You have to forget about it.
“As soon as the window closes you are still an Aberdeen player for the next six or seven months and you have to concentrate on that,” he added.