McKenna: ‘I’d never have believed’ debut Scotland cap at start of remarkable term

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Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna today said it was a dream come true to earn his debut Scotland cap – and vowed to fight to retain his slot for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

The 21-year-old’s meteoric rise continued as he started in the 1-0 friendly loss to World Cup-bound Costa Rica for Alex McLeish’s national side at Hampden.

At the start of the season the centre-back wasn’t starting for the Dons senior team or even the Under-21s.

The Dons rejected a £1 million plus bid for McKenna from Hull in January and were rewarded when he signed a contract extension until 2023.

McKenna was one of four starting players handed debut caps by McLeish in his first game as new Scotland gaffer.

He said: “It is every young boy’s dream to play for their country and that has happened for me now.

“If someone had told me at the start of the season that I would be at Hampden to play for the Scotland A squad, I would never have believed them.

“At the start of the season I wasn’t playing for Aberdeen and wasn’t involved for the U21s.

“Before that I was at Ayr (on loan) and wasn’t getting a sniff.

“It has all seemed to happen so quickly.

“Just being in the Scotland squad was a surprise in itself.

“It was definitely a surprise when I found out I was starting.

“When the team was named on the afternoon of the game I was delighted to see my name up on the board.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all because I had only played 20-odd games for Aberdeen this season.

“There are boys out there who have done it consistently over a lot more games.

“For the manager to give me a chance, I was thrilled and I wanted to go out and show what I could do.”

Scotland lost to a first-half goal from Marco Urena in the friendly in front of a sparse Hampden crowd.

Next up is a clash against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday and McKenna hopes he has impressed enough to retain his starting slot.

He aims to hold that jersey for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and is determined to end a 22-year major finals drought dating back to the 1998 World Cup.

McKenna said: “We are aiming to get to a major tournament.

“The UEFA Nations League starts in the autumn and we have the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign coming up as well.

“That is the end game, but for now it is all about gelling the players with the boys that have come into the squad, to get more of that team performance on the pitch.

“I was just delighted to make my debut, although it wasn’t the result we were after.

“I just tried to enjoy it as best I could and hopefully put in a good performance to try and stay in the squad over the coming months.”

Fellow Dons Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean were unused substitutes against Costa Rica.

McKenna accepts competition for starting slots when the competitive action begins will be intense, but he is ready for the challenge.

“I know there are boys who the manager knows what they can do, so that’s why they weren’t picked,” he said.

“They will be desperate to steal my position, so it is up to me to keep performing well at Aberdeen and If I get the chance for Scotland again (to) put in good performances.

“Hopefully I will get in the next Scotland squad and also the team during the week.

“I don’t know what the manager will do as there are other boys that have been selected as well.”

McKenna, Scott McTominay, Kevin McDonald and Oli McBurnie debuted from the start last night, with Jamie Murphy winning his first cap off the bench late on.

McLeish challenged the debutants to ensure they remain in his squad.

He said: “We had five guys on the pitch who haven’t played for Scotland before and that’s a plus.

“The next step is, can they maintain and stay in the set-up?

“Getting a wee taste of that hopefully would’ve whetted their appetite.”

McLeish will make changes to the team that will face a Hungarian side which lost 3-2 at home to Kazakhstan last night.

He said: “I’m sure I’ll be raring to go with the players in training and looking at possibly a different line-up on Tuesday night.

“It’s an on-going process, it’s not going to be overnight.

“We were never really up on them the way we wanted to be, high on the back three and making the goalie kick.

“Maybe (it was) a bit of apprehension (with) some new caps in the team.

“There’s some young kids that we’re still going to look at.

“The second half was better with much more tempo and urgency.

“It was just a little bit laboured in the first half.”