A year ago the Scottish Under-21 squad offered Stevie Mallan a ray of hope as his move to English football at Barnsley turned sour.
Today the Hibs midfielder is dreaming of playing for Scot Gemmill’s team in next summer’s European Championship finals in Italy, their hopes raised after victories over Andorra and the Netherlands.
Those wins lifted the young Scots into second place behind England in their qualifying group with their final two matches taking place next month, against Ukraine in Kiev and the English at Tynecastle.
Mallan’s continued participation had surprised many given he’s now 22 but he is delighted the rules allow those who qualify to play at that level at the beginning of a competition are allowed to continue to do so until it was over.
He said: “I saw a lot on social media, a lot of people wondering why I was still eligible – me and a few of the other boys.
“But I am happy to play with them as long as possible and I enjoy every time I go away wit the boys. I can’t thank Scot Gemmill enough because when I wasn’t in the picture at Barnsley he was still calling me up for the 21s and I played most games as well.
“It was a bit of a respite for me. It took me away from club football where I wasn’t having the best of times and it made me train harder and want to impress and keep my place in the team. Thankfully I’ve played most of the games in the Euro Championships.
“We’re sitting joint second just now but we’ve probably got the hardest ties left. I think we have to beat Ukraine and either draw or win against England. We’ve given ourselves a good opportunity. It will be a hard one but hopefully we can get ourselves into the finals.”
Mallan believes his summer move to Easter Road has enhanced his chances of being part of it all should the young Scots go all the way, having already played more games for Hibs than he did in his entire season at Oakwell.
“Going from what happened last season, I wanted to play as much as I could this season,” said the former St Mirren player. “When I spoke to the manager [Neil Lennon] he told me how he wanted me to play and I’ve played every game since I came in, I can’t ask for any more.
“I’ve also scored goals as well and I’ve had a really good start. But as the manager has said, even though I’ve had a really good start, it’s about maintaining standards throughout the whole season and not just the beginning. I need to keep doing what I’m doing and helping the team as much as I can.”
Mallan admitted he and his team-mates had let their standards slip as they lost their final Ladbrokes Premiership game before the international break against Livingston, and recognised competition for places starting with today’s clash with Kilmarnock is going to be even tougher with the likes of Flo Kamberi, Darren McGregor and Marvin Bartley all back from injury while Australian midfielder Mark Milligan, a veteran of four World Cup Finals, has been added to Lennon’s squad.
Agreeing the performance at the Tony Macaroni Arena was as poor as the result, he said: “Personally I know I can play better and I think the whole team knows that they can do better as well. I don’t think there’s any hiding from that performance.
“The international break was the perfect opportunity for us to regroup as a team, boys are back in and Mark has now arrived. We’ve had a bit of time off, the legs are fresh and there’s competition for places which is what you want.
“It makes training that bit better, more competitive and it brings up the standards. Everyone is fighting for a place in the staring XI because it’s not a good feeling getting left out.”