Like countless other young boys, Marc McNulty grew up dreaming of one day playing for Scotland. But, as national coach Alex McLeish prepared to name his latest squad, the Hibs striker again thought he’d been overlooked.
There had been no contact from the SFA, no email, phone call or even a knowing nod with the announcement of those who would be in line to play in the Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Kazakhstan and San Marino only hours away.
So, imagine his surprise as he trooped off the training pitch at East Mains on Tuesday morning to congratulations which, even then, he believed were misplaced. “Honesty, I genuinely didn’t know,” he revealed. “My brother had texted me in the morning saying ‘have you heard anything about Scotland?’
“I said I wouldn’t be in the squad because I would have had a phone call or maybe a heads up from someone at some stage. Then I went out to training, came back in and one of the young lads said congratulations to me.
“I didn’t even think at the time and said ‘what for?’ and he told me I was in the squad. I said ‘I don’t think I am’, but he’s like ‘nah, I saw it on Twitter, you are.’ I came in and my phone was going absolutely mental. It was great to find out.
“Later on that day, I got an email and a phone call from someone at the SFA to let me now the itinerary and stuff. I was hoping that someone wasn’t at the wind-up.”
As he named his squad, McLeish revealed McNulty had been on his radar, alerted by the 26-year-old’s 28 goals from Coventry City which had earned him a £1 million summer move to Championship outfit Reading. McLeish’s interest waned, however, as McNulty found game time hard to come by with the Royals.
But six goals in six starts after the former Livingston and Sheffield United hitman joined Hibs on loan for the rest of the season – although there was interest in League One down south – put him in the spotlight once again and, with Steven Naismith, Leigh Griffiths and Steven Fletcher ruled out, he has been handed the chance he has been waiting for.
“I had a good season last year and made a few people aware of what I could do. But I wasn’t really surprised not to get a call when I was at Coventry. I’m a bit of a realist in that sense.
“When you are playing League One in England, or even League Two, then it is difficult to get a call-up, especially when boys are playing week-on, week-out in the Championship or up in the Scottish Premiership. I accept they would be picked before me.
“The Scotland thing was my dream so I thought ‘what’s the right decision here? Scoring goals in League One or doing well at Hibs? Thankfully, this seems to be the right decision.”
McNulty’s realism stretches to recognising that without others being unavailable he might not be joining up with McLeish’s squad for Sunday night’s flight to Astana, saying: “With those players being out it gives me a chance to go there and grasp it with both hands. I’ve got to be confident that if I get minutes on the pitch then I’ll do it.
“I’ve gone from one of my lowest points to the highest. I signed a four-year deal in the Championship, was desperate to impress and then a new manager comes in and says ‘nah, you’re not for me’.
“That’s fine, that’s football. I didn’t get to train with the first team, it was a nightmare. But I stayed positive, I knew January was just around the corner and there would be other opportunities elsewhere. I can’t put into words how happy I am now.
“I did always have it in the back of my mind that one day the dream would come true but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to do it at youth team levels.
“It did come as a surprise that it happened so early [after his switch to Hibs] especially after being told I could find something else and training with the youth team at Reading.
“Then, never in my wildest dreams, did I think that in a couple of months time I’d get a call-up for Scotland.
“It’s great. It’s probably every boy’s dream growing up. The first thing you want to do is play for your country and that was the case for me. I can’t remember which games, but I remember when I was really young and a group of us from school were wanting to jump on the train through to Glasgow.
“My mum was saying I was too young, that I couldn’t go through without a parent, but I managed to get through to Hampden.”
There is, though, no chance of McNulty getting carried away – his Hibs team-mates have already made sure of that. He said: “They’ve been asking if I’ve ever been on holiday to Kazakhstan before. That’s football for you, the boys are always having a laugh and bringing you back down to earth. But I’m never one to get too far ahead of myself, I’m fairly level-headed.”