As he sat frustrated on the Aberdeen bench, Ryan Hedges felt his Euro 2020 finals dream slipping through his fingers.
After an impressive start to his Dons career, the winger was in Ryan Giggs’ squad when automatic qualification for the Euros was secured in November with a 2-0 defeat of Hungary in Cardiff.
Semi-finalists at Euro 2016, Wales were going back to the finals and Hedges was on course to join the summer party.
A regular first-team starter up to the winter break, he was restricted to just one start after the January return to action.
With game time limited he feared Euro chances were ebbing away and admits that hit hard.
However, Hedges has been handed a second chance as Euro 2020 was cancelled and rescheduled for next summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
He aims to make the most of that reprieve.
Hedges said: “The Euros is a huge incentive and when signing for Aberdeen that was one of the things in my head.
“Just to be in the squad when Wales qualified was a great feeling.
“However, it was always in the back of my head that, as I was not playing, I was probably not going.
“That was really frustrating and was really affecting me, although I didn’t really realise.
“Now I have been given another opportunity.
“Wales have games in September, October and November, so hopefully I can be in and around the squad again. And keep pushing.”
Wales face Finland away on September 3 before hosting Bulgaria in Cardiff three days later in the UEFA Nations League.
Hedges believes the rescheduled finals offer a target to many of his Dons team-mates. He said: “Every player has been given another opportunity, when you look at Mikey Devlin and Scott McKenna with Scotland.
“With Northern Ireland there is Matty Kennedy and Niall McGinn.
“We all have the opportunity to try to get to the Euros.”
Signed last summer on a three-year-deal having rejected the offer of a new contract at Barnsley, the winger made an immediate impact. He starred in Europa League qualifiers before netting in the Premiership opener, a 3-2 home defeat of Hearts.
Now he is ready to make another explosive start to the season, starting against Rangers.
He said: “The start of last season was really good and I hit the ground running.
“The goal against Hearts on the first day was a major key in that.
“But after Christmas the starts dried up. When you are playing week in week out there is no better feeling, but when you’re out it’s hard to replicate that form.
“When I was coming on in games, I felt like I was affecting the game, but the manager picks the team, not me.
“You just have to keep working hard in training and show what you can do when given the opportunity.
“Having the break has been good for me. It has allowed me to look at my game, see what I need to improve.
“It offered a few weeks away from football to get your mind right and I am ready to attack the season now.”
Hedges signed on at Pittodrie last summer in the hope a move to the club could help his bid to make the Euro finals.
For the winger, proof of starring for the Dons being a catalyst to elevate a player’s status was recently shown when leading scorer Sam Cosgrove rejected a £2 million flit to Guingamp.
Aberdeen accepted the bid but Cosgrove knocked back the move.
Hedges revealed Cosgrove’s rise from an unknown £20,000 signing from Carlisle to leading scorer was used as an incentive to get him to sign on at Pittodrie.
He said: “It’s huge that Sam decided to stay.
“He scored 20-plus goals last season and that was with the season being cut short, so a player like Sam would have been hard to replace.
“It’s great news for the club that he’s decided to stay.
“When I spoke with Russ Richardson (Aberdeen head of recruitment) about coming here he said this is what Aberdeen can do as a club.
“He said they can give you the stage to go and progress and flagged up Sam by saying to look at how he’s progressed.
“When you are scoring that amount of goals clubs will be looking.
“But Sam is down to earth, he knows what he’s doing and he is very happy to do the job he is doing here.
“If he eventually does move on then it will be up to him.
“Until then we are more than happy to have him.”