Disappointed but not dejected, Declan Gallagher aims to use his Euro 2020 pain as motivation for the new season with Aberdeen.
The 30-year-old summer signing was part of Steve Clarke’s 26-man squad at the summer finals, but did not get any Euro 2020 game time.
Centre-back Gallagher had a week-long break to relax with his family following Scotland’s exit at the group stages before meeting up with his new Dons team-mates.
The former Motherwell skipper, signed on a two-year contract, is set to make his competitive debut in the Uefa Europa Conference League tie with BK Hacken at Pittodrie on Thursday.
Gallagher is determined to make a quick, and major impact, in the bid to help Aberdeen secure success and hopes a by-product can be a return to the Scotland starting XI.
Scotland have a World Cup 2022 qualifying triple-header from September 1 to 7 header against Denmark and Austria at Hampden and Moldova away, with Gallagher determined to be high in Clarke’s thoughts for them.
He said: “Euro 2020 was a good experience and one that I’ll treasure forever, being part of that 26-man squad for the first time in 23 years.
“But, for me personally, it was a bit disappointing because I never got any game time.
“I might not have played at the Euros, but there’s the World Cup qualifiers in September and I’m going to have to play well here to be in that squad.
“You have to be ready for your chance.
“There were a lot of good players there (in defence for Scotland) and these things happen.
“I rate myself highly enough to compete with these players and I’ll be looking to do that come September.”
Competition with Premier League stars
Capped nine times by his country, Gallagher played a pivotal role in securing qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.
He produced a superb performance in defence in the Euro 2020 play-off final penalty shoot-out defeat of Serbia in Belgrade last November.
Hopes were high Gallagher would feature in the Euros, having started in the 1-0 defeat of Luxembourg, the final friendly in Scotland’s pre-tournament build up.
Gallagher had also featured as a second half substitute in the 2-2 draw with Netherlands just days earlier.
That the centre-back roles were filled by Premier League defenders and the player of the year in Belgium at Euro 2020 underlines the level of competition Gallagher was up against.
The players who started at centre-back in the three Group D games against Czech Republic, England and Croatia were Kieran Tierney (Arsenal), Liam Cooper (Leeds United), Grant Hanley (Norwich City, promoted to Premier League) and Jack Hendry (K.V. Oostende).
Hendry was named best player in the Belgian Pro League for last season by respected football magazine Sport Voetbal.
Gallagher said: “My record with Scotland isn’t bad, but at the end of the day, that’s international football.
“There’s quality players everywhere and there were players who play in the English Premier League who I was up against.
“When you look at the backline, you had a guy who was playing for Arsenal, a guy who was captain of Norwich, captain of Leeds and someone who was player of the year in Belgium.
“The standard was really high.”
Hunger to get back into starting line-up
There was a potential opportunity for Gallagher to get Euro 2020 game time in the final Group D clash against Croatia at Hamdpen.
Following an injury, Hanley had to be replaced in the 32nd minute, but it was former Aberdeen centre-back Scott McKenna, now at Nottingham Forest, who got the nod in the 3-1 loss to the beaten 2018 World Cup finalists.
Gallagher said: “It’s always disappointing when you don’t come on, but you’ve got Scott McKenna there who came on and did well.
“He’s at Nottingham Forest just now and doing well down there.
“It just makes me hungrier to get into the squads.”
Respecting Steve Clarke’s decision
Gallagher says he did his utmost during the pre-tournament training camp, friendlies and throughout Euro 2020 to give national manager Clarke a selection headache.
Although disappointed not to play in Scotland’s first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, the defender did not need, nor expect, an explanation from the national manager.
He said: “I don’t really think he (Clarke) had too much to say on the matter.
“There are a lot of great players there playing well for their team.
“It’s obviously hard for the manager. I was there trying to give him a headache, but, at the end of the day, he went with what he did and I respect his decisions.”
Gallagher agreed a pre-contract with Aberdeen in May and did not officially sign on at Pittodrie until after Euro 2020.
The defender insists playing for a Motherwell side that finished in the bottom six of the Premiership last season had absolutely no bearing on Clarke’s decision.
He said: “The manager has shown he doesn’t care who you play for.
“Stephen O’Donnell played all three games (at Euro 2020) and he’s a Motherwell player.
“At the time I was a bit stop-start at Motherwell with injuries – maybe that was something that was going through the manager’s head.”