Keen to add silverware to the rewards reaped this term, the 21-year-old Aberdeen defender, who has been included in a four-man shortlist for PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year, was left disappointed when the Pittodrie side fell short, losing out in this month’s Scottish Cup semi-final to Motherwell.
“I was absolutely gutted. It was a massive opportunity and we wasted it. And they don’t come along too often,” he said. Even more gut-wrenching was the part he played in the downfall. Captain for the day, he skewed a clearance when they were already a goal down. It was the last thing they needed as they tried to settle themselves but Ryan Bowman pounced on the mistake to give the Fir Park side an unassailable advantage.
“I was obviously disappointed. The second goal probably killed the game off. I need to learn from that but not let it affect my performances over the rest of the season.
“I watched it back again, I watch every game back I play in, just to see what I could have done differently. I probably should swing my right foot at it and deal with it rather than go with my left because it just spirals up in the air and obviously causes problems and they scored from that.
“I was devastated at the time. I just went home and sat in my flat on my own and to be honest it played through my head all night, I could barely sleep.
“When I came back in on the Monday morning I just tried to put it behind me and focus on the training going into the next game.”
The team did bounce back, beating Kilmarnock in the first of their post-split fixtures and they are hoping to bank another three points tomorrow night, when they play host to Hearts, and while it is a small blemish on a landmark season for the youngster, the consequences will serve to improve him, insists McKenna.
“It’s about handling criticism because obviously there have been a lot of positives and it is one of the first times people have blamed me for a goal and I have blamed myself for letting the team down.
“Everyone around me at the club has been brilliant and just told me to get on with it and try and keep my performance levels high for the rest of the season. But I am my biggest critic. Other people tried to pick me up and tried not to make it as big a deal as it was, but in my head I knew that goal killed the game for us and gave us a mountain to climb.”
But he has had difficult spells before. Just not this season, which has been a fairly charmed affair.
On Aberdeen’s books from his youth, he wondered if he would ever make the breakthrough after spells at both Alloa and Ayr United. This year was the year he had earmarked as the breakthrough but not even he thought it would go as well as it has.
“My ambition at the start of the season was to try and get into Aberdeen’s first team and play 5-10 games. I’ve surpassed that and things have got better and better.”
There have been 31 appearances for Aberdeen and two more for Scotland, against Costa Rica and Hungary. But he isn’t done. Aberdeen are well-placed in the scrap for second place and once that job is done he hopes to extend his season with a place in Alex McLeish’s squad for the summer friendlies in Peru and Mexico.
“I would love to be in that squad. If I get an opportunity like that it’s something I would have to jump at. You can’t be turning your country down.
“There will be a lot of experienced professionals there and if I go I will get the chance to learn from them and that will help enhance my game even more. When we went away the last time I was just hoping to get on the pitch and get a cap. So to start in both games and put in the performances I did, I was really pleased with the way it went. Hopefully I can improve on that.”