Scott McKenna: A year ago my career was up in the Ayr but now I’m ready to reach the heights with Dons

Scott McKenna.

Last year defender Scott McKenna spent January fighting a relegation battle in sleet and snow while his Dons team-mates sweated it out in Dubai.

Freezing on the pitch and frozen out of the Dons first team, the Middle East may have been 3,500 miles away – but it could have been a million miles.

Now as he trains in the United Arab Emirates, McKenna has completed a remarkable rise to become a Dons regular.

Since breaking into the first team for the 1-0 win over Motherwell in September he has started 15 of 16 games.

The only match he missed was the 3-0 loss to Celtic having sustained a tight calf.

As he watched from the sidelines at Parkhead he was gripped by a fear he would not get back into the side.

Which is why he is ready to scrap to retain his place in the team – and the hard work continues in Dubai.

The 21-year-old said: “When I missed that game there is that fear you will not get back in.

“My calf was just too tight for that game and it was too much of a risk to take.

“I was worried I could then be kept out of the team for 14 or 15 games, something like that.

“Thankfully, I was in for the next game and we kept a clean sheet.

“I know that I can’t take my foot off the gas or let my standards drop because as soon as I do I will be the one out of the team and someone will be back in to replace me.

“It is up to me to try to keep my place.”

McKenna spent last season at struggling Ayr United in a frustrating loan spell that yielded just 14 starts as the club finished rock bottom and relegated from the Championship.

His remarkable rise ensured McKenna travelled to Dubai as an established first team starter.

The change in situation is not lost on the Scotland U21 skipper.

He said: “I missed the trip to Dubai last year as I was out on loan, so this was something I was really looking forward to.

“I remember the turn of the year as I played against Queen of the south in a boring 0-0 draw down at Palmerston in the absolute freezing cold, in horrendous wind.

“When Aberdeen were out in Dubai I played against Falkirk away in a 1-1 draw and I gave away a penalty.”

McKenna rattled off the dates and scores of those games from last season as if they were burned in his mind.

“Aye, but I didn’t play that many games,” he laughed.

“I was at Ayr for the right reasons, so missing Dubai was just one of those things that had to happen for me to get that experience.

“Everyone being out in Dubai when I was at Ayr didn’t make it worse as I was on loan to gain experience.”

Whilst he was struggling to get a start for a team rooted at the bottom of the Championship last season and the Reds were in Dubai, did he have any doubts?

“Aye, there were doubts but I always just worked harder and hoped things would come good,” he said.

“And thankfully they have.”

Aberdeen are staying at the Jebel Ali Beach Resort hotel and are using a state-of-the-art facility nearby.

They will train for four days before facing Lokomotiv Tashkent in a friendly at the complex on Sunday.

McKenna said: “There is a great team spirit in the squad already and being away for a week in Dubai will only strengthen that further.

“The main priority is to get the work done in the hot weather training camp.

“I am sure it will benefit us.”

Aberdeen will also play a golf tournament alongside ex-pat supporters on Thursday and McKenna is hoping to be involved.

Fellow defender Andy Considine is the defending champion having claimed the title at the Arabian Ranches Golf Club last year.

McKenna said: “I try to play golf and will hopefully play in the golf tournament.

“Andy won it last year but there is no chance of beating him – he is the top boy at golf.”

The winter break in Dubai marks both the end of 2017 and the beginning of the new year.

It has been a season of extremes for McKenna, from relegation with Ayr to playing a pivotal role in the Dons’ rise to second in the Premiership.

He accepts he cannot take anything for granted if the momentum of his breakthrough is to continue.

“If you look at the first half of 2017 I was struggling a wee bit and was out on loan at Ayr,” he said.

“I wasn’t playing every week and I also wasn’t playing well.

“However, it has been a very successful end to the year as I played 15 out of 16 games since I came into the team.

“I have got to be happy with how I finished the year but I have to take that into the new year.”

From Somerset Park last season McKenna watched the Reds reach two cup finals and finish Premiership runners-up.

The challenge for the rest of this campaign? To go one better by lifting the Scottish Cup in May.

“As a team our main focus has to be on finishing second again and just trying to get away from the ones chasing us,” he said.

“Rangers have been doing well, as have Hibs.

“We got a massive result against Hibs recently (4-1 win at Pittodrie) which put a wee bit of daylight between us.

“Now we just have to keep that going and hopefully finish second again.

“Winning the Scottish cup is also a target.

“Obviously, we have St Mirren in the cup in our first game back from Dubai.

“They have been going well, so that will be a very tough game for us.”

Aberdeen have a new, but familiar, face during the training camp out in Dubai – Northern Ireland cap Niall McGinn.

The winger, 30, recently rejoined the Reds on a three-and-a-half year deal until summer 2021.

He is in contention to make his Reds return in the friendly against Lokomotiv Tashkent.

McKenna said: “Niall is a top professional and always has been ever since I have been at the club.

“It will be much the same from him and it will not just be me who learns from Niall.

“Boys like Frank Ross and Scott Wright who play in that position will learn so much from training with him every day.”

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