Brad McKay admits to being “pretty emotional” when he learned that Callum Paterson had been called into the Scotland squad, and the defender believes his close friend and team-mate can act as an inspiration for all of Hearts’ young players.
Gordon Strachan added the 20-year-old to the international mix earlier this week after Stoke City full-back Phil Bardsley emerged as a doubt for last night’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Ireland and the glamour friendly with England on Tuesday.
It meant Paterson became the first home-grown Hearts player to break into the Scotland squad since Lee Wallace, then 22, did so five years ago. Although Paterson did not feature against the Irish last night, McKay believes that the right-back’s rapid transition from raw youth at Riccarton to Scotland squad man can have a galvanising effect on all of his fellow Hearts Academy graduates.
“It definitely gives me a boost to see my mate get the call-up and I know the other boys in our team feel the same,” said McKay, who himself played for Scotland Under-21s last season. “You sometimes think that, playing in the Championship, international football might be a bit beyond you because it’s more likely the Premiership boys will get the call to the international squad. But Callum has shown that if you are doing well enough you can get your chance.
“Some people have questioned whether more experienced players from a higher league should get the call-up over guys like Callum and [Rangers winger] Lewis Macleod, but Gordon Strachan is giving these guys a chance and that’s all you can ask for as a young player. Whether they sink or swim is up to themselves.”
McKay is particularly close to Paterson after forging a strong bond with the South Queensferry boy since the pair joined the club as teenagers at the same time back in 2010. As a result, he was as thrilled as anyone at Tynecastle when news emerged on Monday morning of his fellow defender’s surprise call-up.
“I’m delighted for Callum and it’s a credit to the Academy and how hard they have worked with him,” said McKay. “I came to Hearts at the same time as Callum and we’ve been best pals pretty much since we’ve been here, so it was pretty emotional when he got his call-up.
“I actually thought it was a joke when I saw it on Twitter, so I texted him straight away to say ‘tell me this isn’t a wind-up, tell me it’s true’. When he got back to say it’s true I couldn’t believe it, I was delighted. He was in the Under-21 squad already, but to get promoted is a massive deal and I imagine his phone was ringing red hot this week.”
Paterson only turned 20 last month but has already made 70 appearances and scored 17 goals in Hearts’ first team. He broke into the side as a right-back under John McGlynn in summer 2012 but, after being utilised at centre-forward, right midfield and even central midfield on occasions, it was only earlier this year that he was restored to right-back on a regular basis and given the platform to showcase himself as one of the most swashbuckling young players in the country. McKay believes that his mate could go on to have a similar impact to fellow 20-year-old, Andrew Robertson, who has emerged as Scotland’s first-choice left-back after a meteoric rise from Scottish part-timers Queen’s Park to English Premier League side Hull City.
“Callum’s done incredibly well,” said McKay. “He’s a consistent and reliable player who is so versatile that he can play in a lot of positions. He’s an athlete – quick and strong – who will give you everything in a game and I think that’s what Gordon Strachan has seen in him.
“He’s similar to Andrew Robertson in that sense and Gordon Strachan has given him a chance as well, so it sends a positive message to all the young players in Scotland that if you work hard you will get your chance.
“Even since last year Callum has improved immensely. I think he’s been fantastic this season. Some of his work at right-back has been brilliant. Maybe last season he didn’t find his position because I think he played everywhere apart from in goals and at left-back. But recently he has settled in a position and he is doing great.”