Stepping up to the senior Scotland squad is a burning ambition for Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna.
Already an under-21 international, McKenna believes the next logical step is to target the senior national team, still without a manager after the departure of Gordon Strachan.
Ahead of last November’s 1-0 friendly defeat by Holland – at McKenna’s home ground of Pittodrie –stand-in Malky Mackay lamented the nation’s lack of quality centre backs.
The 21-year-old McKenna made his under-21 debut against the Dutch last September and has been one of the finds of the season for Dons boss Derek McInnes. McKenna missed just one game since the Reds were knocked out of the League Cup by Motherwell last September and has forged promising partnerships with both Kari Arnason and Anthony O’Connor.
With five caps for Scot Gemmill’s under-21 side, McKenna feels he now has to look ahead and try to force his way into the senior side.
He said: “I’ve got to keep doing what I do and hopefully I can force my way into that scene in the next couple of years or whenever the manager feels the time is right.
“You dream of that when you are younger. If you get in the under-19 squad you want to make the 21s. Then in the 21s you think about the next step and pushing to the A squad. I do know there are a lot of good centre halves out there. John Souttar, Ross McCrorie and Jack Hendry have done well and there are others in the English Championship playing at a good level.”
McKenna’s story is an illustration of how careers can change in the space of 12 months. This time last year he was gearing up for a game for relegation-threatened Ayr United away to Falkirk but now finds himself a Dons regular and in Dubai for their winter training camp.
His progress was rewarded last October with a three-year contract extension but he is grateful for his experiences at Ayr and how that shaped his improvement.
He added: “I had been at Ayr before and I knew what to expect. But there was one week when I was left out the squad and didn’t even make the bench. I knew I had only one year left on my contract and I realised I had to make the most of it. I maybe wasn’t playing as well as I should have been at Ayr but I had to put that behind me at the start of the season and forced my way into the manager’s plans.
“Part-time football means you turn up for training on Tuesday and Thursday nights and have a day job. I wanted to stay in full-time football as long as I could and especially at a great club like Aberdeen.
“I don’t know what’s been different this year. Maybe I’m seeing benefits of a good pre-season.”