EYEBROWS were raised last week when Celtic winger Gary Mackay-Steven was left out of the Scotland squad for tomorrow night’s challenge match against Northern Ireland at Hampden and Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifying match at home to Gibraltar.
He and Stuart Armstrong have been in impressive form for the Premiership leaders since their transfer deadline day move from Dundee United last month but both players were considered surplus to requirements by national team manager Gordon Strachan.
Mackay-Steven has been capped once before, when Strachan sent him on as a substitute in a 0-0 draw against the USA last season, and he intends to establish himself at that level.
However, the latest snub has merely served to inspire the 24-year-old to work even harder and he believes that, by helping their new club to complete the domestic treble and competing in the Champions League next season, he and Armstrong will make it impossible for Strachan to reject their claims for inclusion.
“Am I disappointed? Not really, to be honest,” said Mackay-Steven, who was helping promote Celtic’s Easter coaching courses for schoolchildren.. “Anything like that would be an added bonus. It was nice to hear people saying they would maybe put our names in the frame and nice to be associated with Scotland.
“But, first and foremost, our thoughts were about coming here to hit the ground running with Celtic. If anything, that [being omitted] just gives me added motivation to work really hard and be consistent and, hopefully, get in the Scotland squad in the future.
“Would winning the treble help? Definitely: if you’re doing well you come into the frame. The treble’s what we want here and the team’s made big leaps in the last couple of games against Dundee United, winning the Scottish Cup replay and the League Cup so there are good times ahead here.”
He admits, though, that positive performances in the Champions League would provide compelling evidence that he and Armstrong belong at the elite level.
“For sure, yeah,” he said. “We want to win every game we play and we definitely want to qualify for the Champions League, which is the pinnacle of club football.
“You get a taste of the big European nights here – like we did against Inter Milan – and there’s nothing better so that’s the aim.”
Mackay-Steven also draws succour from the fact that goalkeeper Fraser Forster managed to parlay European heroics with Celtic into a place in England’s World Cup squad and a move to the Premier League with Southampton.
“Fraser was unbelievable here in all the European games I saw,” said Mackay-Steven.
“He played a big part in Celtic doing so well and he’s had massive success from that so, hopefully, we can follow suit.”
Mackay-Steven will not attend the game against Gibraltar. Utilising his free weekend to visit to the family home in Thurso.
Of course, there will be one more opportunity to add to his cap collection this season when Scotland face the Republic of Ireland in a qualifier in Dublin on June 13 and he revealed that he is keeping his options open.
“I’ve not booked any holidays yet but anything like that will come if I keep doing well here,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone.
“Stuart and I have been in and around squads before and that comes with consistent performances at club level. That’s what we both need to do before it can happen for us.”
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