Mikey Devlin hopes his run of bad luck is over after earning a recall to the Scotland squad.
After recovering from a serious knee injury that kept him out for over a year, his performances for new club Aberdeen had earned him a maiden call-up to the Scotland squad.
Then, on international duty, he rolled his ankle, sidelining him for three months and derailing his season. Devlin managed just five starts since his spell out and frustration, inevitably, kicked in.
He said: “Sometimes you wonder if you’ve missed the boat. We’ve got a very competitive squad, 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. Now we’ve got Scott McKenna, David Bates, John Souttar, myself, Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Findlay’s come into the fold as well. We’re not short of options.
“You’ve got to take that opportunity when it comes and almost 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.
“It’s been a frustrating season. Probably more at myself than anything. I’ve had enough game-time, had I reached that level of performance where I’d be playing week in week out. There’s been mistakes and not managing to get where I expect to myself. But that’s the challenge that comes with an injury and killing momentum.
“You have to keep working hard and remember the principles that got to you at that point. Not getting too down when things aren’t going too well and not getting too up when things kick on again.
The example set by his Dons colleague and flat-mate Scott McKenna kept him going. Devlin has had a front-row seat to McKenna’s own rapid rise to full international and the pair bounce off each other away from football.
He said: “He’s been brilliant for us. He’s very laid back, where I’m a bit more of a thinker and worrier. That translates to how he performs on the pitch; he’s had a meteoric rise in the last 18 months and he takes it all in his stride. I see that day to day, that’s how he trains and lives. He’s been a great example to me. We’re pretty chilled, we go to training, have a coffee, go home and cook.
“With Scotty’s background, where he came from, he was on loan at Ayr United and came back and took his opportunity. Each test he seems to pass with flying colours. He’s a brilliant lad with all the ability in the world. He’ll play at whatever level he wants to.”
Devlin, who joined the Dons from Hamilton Accies in January 2018, was a surprise inclusion in Steve Clarke’s first squad, given his lack of games for Aberdeen. He is one of five uncapped players in the squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Belgium and Cyprus, which was an opportunity he was never going to shirk.
Devlin said: “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 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 gaffer’s first squad.”