Two years ago, Scot Gemmill led the country’s under-17s to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals – a first for the nation at that age group. Snapped ligaments prevented Kilmarnock winger Kiltie from making it to Malta after he had helped the young Scots through two qualifying groups.
Now coach Gemmill and most of that squad – who claimed an unprecedented back-to-back in also reaching this year’s finals – have stepped up to 19s level, and Kiltie has his sights set on helping them replicate the feats of May 2014.
“I really want to experience the European Championships the same as the rest of the boys who have been there with the under-17s. I missed out in that one through injury, so I hope we can go this year and I can make up for lost time,” the 18-year-old said yesterday.
“I got injured after we qualified [against Belgium in March 2014] and went to the last qualifier on crutches but I knew then I wasn’t going to make the finals. I went back to my physio and as soon as the scan came back he said that there was no chance.
“The boys did well and I was happy for them but watching on the TV is not quite the same as being there. It was unbelievably frustrating. I hate sitting at the side, there’s nothing worse than watching your team play when you could be out there helping them. I was kicking every ball, though, and cheering them on.”
Gemmill’s work with the younger age groups has engendered much to cheer. The core of the side remains the same as that which lost to the Netherlands in the last four of the tournament a year-and-a-half ago. Precisely why hopes are high that, with the addition of first-team breakthrough players such as Kiltie and Celtic defender Kieran Tierney, they can progress to the elite round of the European Championship. To do that they need to finish in the top two of a group that will see them play Latvia tomorrow, Slovenia two days later and then host side the Republic of Ireland next Wednesday.
Any expectancy on Kiltie’s international age group is, he says, not misplaced. Yet he recognises there are potential pitfalls, even if recent form – a win over Mexico and draws against the USA and hosts Germany in a friendly tournament last month – appears to augur well.
“We got to the semi-final of the Euros which is obviously a big achievement, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We just need to keep playing the way we have been and try to keep up the results that we have been getting. We’re not taking anything for granted,” said the forward, who can lay claim to being the youngest Kilmarnock debutant in more than half a century.
“A few of the boys have played first-team, the likes of Kieran Tierney who is doing very well and Ryan Hardie who has been getting a few games for Rangers as well. It’s nice to see that their teams are giving them a chance. I’ve obviously played quite regularly this season and hope that continues. I don’t feel any extra responsibility though, I think everybody brings something to the table and I know that I’ve got good players round about me.
“I think it shows that with Gordon Strachan going to training with the under-21s that he’s obviously looking at the boys coming through. Right now we’re obviously focusing on the under-19s, but you’re looking to progress to the under-21s and hopefully one day you can make the senior squad. It’s obviously good that the ‘A’ squad manager is watching out and looking for you, so you always need to play your best when you’re away and hopefully impress him.”