Dylan McGeouch has revealed how Neil Lennon’s powers of persuasion helped pave the way for his Scotland call-up.
As a youth player, McGeouch quit Celtic after his older brother, who also played for the Hoops, fell out of favour at Parkhead before crossing Glasgow’s great divide and joining Rangers.
But, such was the belief Lennon had in the young midfielder’s ability that he turned up on his doorstep to ask him back to Celtic, McGeouch agreeing to do so despite Rangers boss Walter Smith wanting him to stay at Ibrox, a decision that resulted in the Govan club receiving £100,000 through a transfer tribunal.
Long since reunited at Easter Road, McGeouch believes he’s finally realising the potential Lennon saw in him all those years ago, the 25-year-old having shaken off the injuries which have plagued him in recent seasons.
Although widely touted over the weekend as a possible candidate for new Scotland boss Alex McLeish’s first squad, McGeouch admitted he was caught by surprise, the news broken to him in a text from a relative.
McGeouch did know, however, that McLeish had been at last Friday’s Edinburgh derby, the former Hibs manager revealing that the midfielder’s man-of-the-match display in the 2-0 victory over Hearts had clinched his inclusion in the pool of players who will face Costa Rica and Hungary.
He said: “I knew the squad was being announced and I had an idea Alex would be at the game – it was a big match between the biggest teams in Edinburgh so I thought he would be. I’m glad I played well and he came out and said that sealed it on the day.
“A lot of people had put my name forward, but it was up to me to go out and show what I can do. Thankfully, he was there and liked what he saw.
“You have to believe in yourself, but there’s always that wee doubt so you have to concentrate on Hibs. My greatest thought was that I’d love to be in it but, if not, recognise that people were talking about me for the Scotland squad and take pride in that given 12 months ago I was nowhere near it.
“I had that in my head, but when I got the news I was ecstatic. My family are over the moon.
“People have asked me if I had an insight but I never knew anything at all. My cousin is daft on Twitter and he sent me a message saying: ‘Well done’.
“Then [John] McGinn sent me a text to say we were both in and I got the email [from the SFA] later on. It was a surreal moment, but also an excellent feeling. I was delighted.”
McGeouch put his call-up down to the fact that, finally, he is enjoying a consistent run of games; visits to a specialist in London recommended by Scotland midfielder Robert Snodgrass, a good friend, having resulted in him playing 35 matches for Hibs so far this season.
He said “Growing up as a young kid you dream of playing for your country but with the stop-start seasons I have had here I’ve never really put myself in that bracket, especially with the midfield Scotland has.
“But now I have had a consistent run of games and the team is doing really well. I think we are starting to see the rewards of the hard work that myself, the team and the backroom staff here have all put in.
“I’ve got a good relationship with them and it’s about maintaining things through the season when I’m feeling tight or whatever, getting worked on. It’s just about getting a run of games.
“After seven or eight in a row, you start to feel stronger and fitter. Now I’m at more than 30 and feeling good.”
McGeouch also recognised the influence Lennon has had, not only on his career but in driving Hibs into fourth place in the Ladbrokes Premiership in their first season back in the top flight.
“He’s been huge for me, he has kept on top of me,” revealed McGeouch. “When we’ve had poor results, he’s told us and he gets a good reaction from the squad. He is always there to make sure we are not complacent. He has been at the top level as a player and a coach, the last 16 of the Champions League and beating Barcelona.
“He knows what it is all about and how to get the best out of his team. He always wants his side to be hard to beat and play good football, you can see his teams fight for him – you can see that with Hibs.
“If teams want a battle, we can match them. If they want to play, we can do that too.
“He and Garry Parker saw me a lot when I was a youth player and wanted me back at Celtic when I was a kid. He saw something in me as a boy. It’s great to finally get the rewards by being part of the national side.
“I’m sure the gaffer will take a lot of pleasure in that since he was the one that saw me as a young boy.”
The matches against Costa Rica and Hungary signal the start of Scotland’s preparations for the European Championships of 2020, McGeouch admitting he’s too young to remember our last tilt at a major tournament, the World Cup in France in 1998.
Insisting being part of a Scotland squad which finally did so would be “massive”, McGeouch said: “It would be a huge honour to play for my country and hopefully I will get that opportunity but even just to get recognition by being named in the squad is great.
“Having grown up a Scotland fan it’s great to get that call-up. As a youngster me and my dad would get the Scotland flags out, we’d be there singing the national anthem. And when I was old enough I’d go with my mates so I’ve always been right into it.
“As a Scotland fan, it’s just important we get there, and then, if I am part of it, great. I think everyone is rooting for us to get to a major tournament again. We know what it means to the fans and how big it would be.
“We all want the same thing, and I would be honoured to be part of it.
“I was too young to remember France ’98, I was only five at the time. But I spoke to Danny Swanson who said he can remember watching it. People still talk about the game against Brazil, the penalty, the result and everything that happened.
“I remember watching the France games, the play-offs, the heartache against Italy in the last minute. They’re obviously not good memories but they’re the ones that stick in your head.
“Then there’s the McFadden goal in Paris, I’ll always remember that. Hopefully in this campaign we can get to that major tournament and make our own memories.”