Declan Gallagher admits nerves got the better of him on first Scotland call-up

Declan Gallagher will be flying the flag for Motherwell when Scotland take on Cyprus and Kazakhstan over the next week. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Declan Gallagher will be flying the flag for Motherwell when Scotland take on Cyprus and Kazakhstan over the next week. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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It only requires a cursory look at the Group I table to identify one of the root causes of Scotland’s woes in what has been a miserable Euro 2020 qualifying campaign so far.

The concession of 17 goals in their eight matches so far – only whipping boys San Marino have shipped more – underlines the long-standing problem Scotland have faced in trying to find a reliable central defensive partnership.

The lack of quality and depth in that department has already been compounded for manager Steve Clarke ahead of the final two Group I fixtures, against Cyprus in Nicosia on Saturday and then Kazakhstan at Hampden next Tuesday.

Clarke was forced to omit injured duo Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Findlay from the squad he named last week and has now lost another centre half after Leeds United captain Liam Cooper pulled out with a groin strain on Monday.

It could offer an opportunity for Declan Gallagher to make his Scotland debut over the course of the next seven days and prove he can be a longer term solution in the heart of his country’s back four.

The Motherwell player admits his first involvement in the squad, when he was a late replacement for the injured Grant Hanley for the double header against Russia and San Marino last month, took him by surprise.

Gallagher was an unused substitute in both games but feels better prepared to earn his first cap this time. The Aberdeen duo of Scott McKenna and Mikey Devlin are the only other recognised central defenders in the squad and Gallagher is keen to make his mark.

“The challenges of international football are huge,” said Gallagher. “It’s another step up for me but one I’m looking 
forward to.

“The first time I joined up with Scotland, at the last call-up, I was caught off guard with the pace of it a little bit in training but I’m now going in fully expecting to be right at it from the start.

“I feel in a better place to deal with that now. I’ve got a wee feel for it. I won’t have the first-time nerves this time – not knowing what’s going to happen, what you have to do and what the routine is.

“Now I’ve seen and done that, it’s time to go in there and impress that little bit more.

“I was a little disappointed not to get any game time last time. Every footballer wants to play but at the end of the day the manager makes these decisions and I was just happy to be involved in the squad.

“It’s obviously disappointing not to play but it’s about the team. If the manager feels the team he’s picked can win, then so be it. I just have to work harder to try and get into it.

“It’s exciting to be part of this squad. You can see there’s been a few injuries – that’s why I got my first call-up.

“Now I’ve got a second call-up which is good. I’m hopeful of pushing my way in with the Euro 2020 play-off games coming up in March. I just need to try and impress in these next two games to hopefully be a part of that. It’s definitely an exciting time for me. It’s given me the opportunity to show my talents so hopefully I can take that.”

The 28-year-old former Clyde, Dundee and Livingston player is blossoming late as a defender of considerable ability which he showcased again in a fine performance for Motherwell at Celtic Park on Sunday.

Despite being involved in the unfortunate break of the ball which led to Odsonne Edouard’s opener in Celtic’s 2-0 victory, Gallagher relished the kind of test which should be good preparation for Scotland duty.

“It was a hard game, as it always is at Celtic Park,” he added. “We had a game plan. It worked well in the first half, although it was a poor goal to concede. It just fell to Edouard in the box.

“It was tough to come in 1-0 down at half-time having fought so hard. That killed it a little bit.

“You can see how much quality Celtic have got all across the pitch. It’s hard to get a result against them, especially when they are on such a high after beating Lazio in the Europa League.

“It was always going to be tough ask but I still think the boys played well.

“I’ll still be hurting on international duty, as club football is what you come back to. I’ll just need to try and get it out of my head and concentrate on Scotland.

“I still feel full of confidence. A lot of good things are happening for me at the moment.

“When you get called up by your country, you get a boost from that. I’m definitely playing with a bit of confidence. There is definitely more to come from me. You can always become a better player. The manager is pushing me every day in training to try and develop me.

“I’m always in the gym – trying to improve on my speed and my own game. There’s always more you can improve on and hopefully I can do that with Scotland as well.”