Michael Devlin was probably as surprised as anyone to be included in Steve Clarke’s first Scotland squad.
But the uncapped Aberdeen defender is determined to make the most of his opportunity to make a positive first impression on the new national team manager.
Devlin has started only five games for the Dons since his return to action in February after being sidelined by a foot tendon injury he sustained in training with the Scotland squad last November.
The 25-year-old, an unused sub in the friendly defeat by Portugal the previous month, had been earmarked by Clarke’s predecessor Alex McLeish to make his Scotland debut in the Nations League fixture against Albania.
But the injury robbed him of that big moment, as well as a Betfred Cup Final appearance for Aberdeen, and he has struggled to regain his optimum form since recovering full fitness.
As a result, Devlin’s inclusion in Clarke’s 27-man squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Belgium raised a few eyebrows. But the former Hamilton Accies captain is eager to finally stake his claim for a place in the heart of Scotland’s defence.
“Sometimes you wonder if you’ve missed the boat at international level,” admitted Devlin. “The last time I was involved with Scotland, it ended prematurely. I was really excited and at club level things were going well at the time.
“I rolled my ankle in training and it took a bit of time to get to the bottom of it. I went on to miss three months for my club, including the cup final, which was gutting.
“It’s been frustrating since I came back – probably more at myself than anything. I’ve had enough game time to try and reach that level of performance where I’d be playing week in, week out for Aberdeen. There have been mistakes and not managing to get where I expect to be myself. That’s the challenge that comes with an injury which kills your momentum. But what better way for me to end the season than being involved with the national team.
“We’ve got a very competitive squad this week, particularly at centre-back. For the last four or five years it’s been a position that’s been crying out for someone to take that mantle with Scotland. Now we’ve got myself, Scott McKenna, John Souttar, Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Findlay with us, while David Bates isn’t in this squad but has been involved recently. We’re not short of options.
“So you’ve got to take that opportunity when it comes and not allow other people that opportunity. Fortunately, I’m back in the fold now. It’s a clean slate for everyone to show the gaffer what they can do and hopefully put his trust in you to show what you can do.
“For any player under a new manager, you don’t know if you’ll be the main man or on the periphery. When I got the call for this squad I was over the moon to be involved. As a boy. it’s your dream to play for the national team and the last few months haven’t changed that. It’s an honour every time you get the opportunity, especially with it being the new gaffer’s first squad.
“Every single player here will be highly enthusiastic about what’s coming under Steve Clarke. The level he’s worked at and achieved great success, being part of teams that have won trophies at Liverpool and Chelsea, and then what he achieved at Kilmarnock is second to none.
“We’ve got top-quality guys within the squad – Andy Robertson (pictured) won the Champions League, guys like Kenny McLean and John McGinn have won promotion to the Premier League in England. That runs through the squad and it’s in a good place just now.”