HAVING been an infrequent starter for Aberdeen since returning from a three month lay-off back in February, the inclusion of Mikey Devlin in the Scotland squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Belgium came as something of a surprise.

Yet, nobody was more taken aback than Devlin himself; the centre half feared his chance to represent his country had gone forever after he was forced to withdraw from the squad for the Nations League games against Albania and Israel back in November.

With Charlie Mulgrew absent and John Souttar suspended, he was tipped to start alongside his club mate Scott McKenna in the Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder last year. Alas, he suffered a freak ankle injury during training and missed out.

“Sometimes you wonder if you’ve missed the boat,” said Devlin yesterday after taking part in another Scotland training session under new manager Steve Clarke at Oriam just outside Edinburgh.

“The call-up was a bit before I expected it, but it looked like a great opportunity for me and Scott to go and play. I was really excited. At club level things were going well.

“But it ended prematurely. I rolled my ankle and it took a bit of time to get to the bottom of it. I went on to miss three months for my club and the cup final (in the Betfred Cup in December) which was gutting.

“We’ve got a very competitive squad, particularly at centre-back. For the last four or five years it’s been a position that’s been crying out for someone to take that mantle. Now we’ve got Scott McKenna, David Bates, John Souttar, myself, Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Findlay has come into the fold as well. We’re not short of options.

“You’ve got to take that opportunity when it comes and almost not allow other people their chance. Fortunately, I’m back in the fold now. It’s a clean slate for everyone to show the gaffer what they can do. What better way is there to end the season than being involved with the national team?”

It will be unexpected if Devlin features in the Group I matches at Hampden on Saturday evening or the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels on Tuesday night given his lack of game time in recent weeks and the individuals who he is vying for a place with.

Still, the former Hamilton defender believes that if he impresses Clarke and his coaching staff this week anything is possible. He shares a flat in Aberdeen with McKenna and has seen how he has been rewarded for his fine form at club level with an extended run in the Scotland side.

“Scotty’s been brilliant,” he said. “He’s very laid back, where I’m a bit more of a thinker and worrier. I see that day to day, that’s how he trains and lives. That translates to how he performs on the pitch. He’s been a great example to me.

“He’s had a meteoric rise in the last 18 months and he takes it all in his stride. Scotty was on loan at Ayr United and came back and took his opportunity. Each test he seems to pass with flying colours.

“I stay with big Scotty – looking after him is a full-time job. Seriously, though, we’re pretty chilled, we go to training, have a coffee, go home and cook. He’s a brilliant lad with all the ability in the world. He’ll play at whatever level he wants to.”

The 25-year-old will certainly have the mental fortitude required to play for Scotland, whose supporters are expecting great things in their forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers following Clarke’s appointment last month, if he does get the nod in future. The ankle knock he suffered up last year was far from the first in his career.

“I’ve been through enough disappointments,” he said. “I came through two bad knee injuries. It can be challenging, but you just need to get on with it. Any footballer needs it (mental strength) as injuries are part and parcel of what we do. You have enough ups and downs being fit – results, change of manager, getting released.”

The mature manner that Devlin coped with the step up to European football at the start of this season suggested that he could cope with the demands of the international game if he is called upon by Clarke in the coming months.

He made his debut for Aberdeen in the Europa League qualifier against Burnley at Pittodrie last July and helped Derek McInnes’s men record a 1-1 draw despite not playing for over a year. He also featured in the second leg at Turf Moor and ensured the Ladbrokes Premiership club took their Premier League rivals to extra-time.

He is pleased to, courtesy of Celtic’s win over Hearts in the William Hill Scottish Cup final last month, have the chance to play in continental competition once again next term.

“Any opportunity to play at the top level its brilliant,” he said. “We’ve become accustomed to European football at Aberdeen, it’s a must. Fortunately, Celtic did us a favour by winning the cup and we get the opportunity to do that again.”

Devlin watched Scotland from the stands as a boy and shares the excitement which supporters have about the appointment of Clarke as a manager. He will relish his involvement whether he plays or not.

“I used to get to as many games as I could,” he said. “Most of the boys will be the same. I remember seeing James McFadden, Gary Caldwell, Paul Hartley. Getting to that stage now myself is a real privilege.

“When I got the call I was over the moon. As a boy it’s your dream to play for the national team and the last few months haven’t changed that. It’s an honour every time you get the opportunity, but especially with it being the gaffer’s first squad.

“The level he’s worked at and the success he’s had, he is second to none. Every single player here is enthusiastic about what’s coming. The squad and it’s in a good place. “