Marley Watkins eyes final flourish to press Wales claim

MARLEY WATKINS hopes to use the big stage at Hampden Park to press his claim for inclusion in Wales’ European Championship squad.

Marley Watkins: Special two years. Picture: Steve Welsh

The Inverness midfielder-cum-striker was placed on international standby earlier in the season when he was occupying a wide role for Caley Thistle prior to goalscorer Billy McKay’s move to Wigan.

Now he is hoping to catch Wales’ manager Chris Coleman’s eye by emerging as one of Saturday’s Scottish Cup final stars.

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“That’s definitely a target of mine,” said the 24-year-old Lewisham-born player who grew up in Swansea and qualifies to play for the national side through his parents.

“Being put on standby made me realise that it’s not far away, with a bit of form.

“The cup final is a big game on a big stage, but I am not going to put additional pressure on myself. I will treat it as just another game without at the same time taking Falkirk lightly, as it’s all about winning at the end of the day.

“I don’t care if I don’t play well as long as the team wins, but playing for Wales would be a dream come true.”

Watkins confesses to being something of an introvert prone to the occasional “mad moment” but he suspects he will very probably let his hair down if Inverness make history by winning their first national trophy.

“I think the whole city would be beaming if that were to happen,” he said. “You can feel the buzz around the place and that’s great for Inverness and the club. It’s going to be a special day, whatever happens.”

Quiet and unassuming by nature, Watkins claimed not to have seen posters of himself adorning prime sites in the town centre, but he received a tweet from a fan with an image and admitted: “It’s awesome, not the sort of thing you think about when you’re a kid.

“I know we got lucky in the semi-final against Celtic with the hand-ball controversy, but I felt we merited our win, as we still had to score, which isn’t easy against a team of the quality of Celtic.”

There has been considerable speculation linking Watkins to several clubs, including Aberdeen, with his contract about to expire.

But he was keen to avoid conversation about his future, pointing out: “I haven’t thought about it. That may sound stupid, but I think there are bigger things to be thinking about at the moment. This is all about the club, not me. It’s a massive game for the whole city and that’s what I’m focused on right now, the cup final.

“The lads here are top notch and it’s been a special two years for me and maybe it will be longer, I’m not sure.

“It’s been a good learning curve as well. I feel as if I’ve missed a lot of chances since Billy (McKay) left, but I’ve made them as well.”

Watkins spent eight years as a youth player with Swansea before being released in 2007 and subsequently saw service with Cheltenham Town, Bath City and Hereford United before finding his way to the Highlands two years ago.

While there is an obvious temptation to draw comparisons with the Swans’ rise through the divisions and Inverness’s achievements, Watkins is happy with his lot. He added: “I was at Swansea prior to the Roberto Martinez era when he changed the team’s style of play, so I missed out on that.

“But I feel it was a blessing in disguise for me to have left and grown. It’s been a great journey coming here, getting into Europe and playing in cup finals.

“I’m a Swansea fan. I used to go to the Vetch Field and I was there when they beat Hull to stay in League Two and I’ve done the pitch invasions. It was a special place.

“Swansea is a great club and most players who play for them say it’s a special place. They have been on a fantastic journey for ten years, from staying in League Two to the Premiership.

“But I have no regrets. Inverness has been on a special journey as well, so it’s quite similar.”