Rising midfielder Frank Ross admits he wasn’t ready for the Dons when he scored a screamer against Rangers – but he is now.
The 20-year-old came off the bench last December to net a superb free-kick in a 2-1 loss to the Gers at Pittodrie.
It was enough to secure his first start for the Reds in the next game, a 1-0 win at Dundee, but the next month he was sent out on loan to Championship side Morton.
Ross insists he learned a lot about himself during six months in Scotland’s second tier – vital lessons that have made him more than ready to become a key player for Derek McInnes’s first team this season.
Ross came into the starting line-up for the 4-0 Betfred Cup defeat of St Mirren at just 15 minutes’ notice, after Niall McGinn suffered an injury during the warm-up. He impressed and held his starting spot for the 1-1 draw at Hibs.
That form was recognised by Scotland U21 boss Scot Gemmill who has called the Pittodrie Youth Academy graduate into the squad that will face Andorra tonight in a Uefa European Championship qualifier tie.
Ross said: “I don’t think I was ready then when I scored against Rangers.
“I needed that loan move to Morton to get me ready – and now I am.
“I am ready to play for Aberdeen.
“I learned a lot of stuff about myself mentally while at Morton.
“In terms of position, I learned a lot and defensively I also learned so much.
“When you are at a huge club like Aberdeen and get an opportunity you have to go out and grab it and I aim to do that.”
Ross was a late call-up into the Scotland U21 squad as replacement for Pittodrie team-mate Scott Wright, who had to withdraw having suffered ankle ligament damage during training.
Midfielder Ross has previously been capped at U19 and U17 level.
While on loan at Morton he made 18 appearances and scored twice.
He said: “When I came back from the loan at Morton the manager (Derek McInnes) said I was so close to playing in his team. What he said made me really work on my fitness over the summer and I came back from pre-season flying and extremely fit.
“He noticed that and has rewarded me with game time. That has given me a real incentive.
“The gaffer is extremely good with the young players.”
Scotland also face the Netherlands in Doetinchem on Tuesday in a Group 4 clash.
Gemmill’s young Scots sit fourth in group 4, eight points behind leaders England and three behind second-placed Netherlands, who occupy the play-off position.
He said: “You keep an eye on every squad, praying you will be selected.
“I know a few of the boys and I was delighted when I got the call-up.”
Ross is in the U21 squad alongside fellow Don Lewis Ferguson. Ferguson, 19, arrived at Pittodrie in the summer and has made an immediate impact. The teen has started every game this season and netted a sensational overhead kick in the 3-1 extra-time loss to Burnley in the Europa League. Ross said: “Lewis Ferguson is a year younger than me and when you see him play you think, ‘I need to get a move on here’.”
While Ferguson was signed from Hamilton, Ross is part of a Pittodrie Youth Academy class that includes Scotland cap Scott McKenna, Bruce Anderson and Scott Wright.
Aberdeen recently rejected a £7 million bid from Aston Villa for McKenna and also knocked back a £3.5m move from Celtic.
Ross said: “It is great to have Scott McKenna, Bruce Anderson, Scott Wright and myself out on the pitch. I have been at Aberdeen since I was seven years old and I played my first games for the U10s at that age.
“I then actually signed when I was eight. My family were all proud when I made my debut.
“There would have been myself, Scott, Bruce, Connor McLennan, Dean Campbell, Sam Roscoe in the U20s. There are a lot more good young players in the U20s that, given a chance, can do well. Hopefully they can get their chance and go on to play well.”