Scotland coach: Calling up Hearts' Jon McLaughlin was no-brainer
Six times Stevie Woods was called into the Scotland squad, but a cap was always tantalisingly out of reach for the goalkeeper as he found himself behind the likes of Andy Goram and Jim Leighton in the pecking order.
Nevertheless, the former Hibs youth player cherished every moment he was part of the national set-up and today remains just as excited as he prepares to play his part as Alex McLeish takes the helm for a second time.
Woods jumped at the chance to combine his role as Celtic’s goalkeeping coach with being part of McLeish’s coaching team, taking charge of preparing Hearts No.1 Jon McLaughlin, 35-times capped Allan McGregor and Millwall’s Jordan Archer for Friday night’s friendly against Costa Rica and next week’s trip to face Hungary in Budapest.
And, revealed the 49-year-old, it was his input which helped Edinburgh-born McLaughlin win the chance to claim his first cap.
He said: “Alex was looking for a bit of guidance on the goalkeeping side. Obviously Craig Gordon is unavailable so I gave him a short list of goalkeepers and he cross-referenced it with his scouts and we came up with these three.
“I’ve known Allan for years and years, I played against him when he was on loan at St Johnstone and when he was with Rangers. Jon has been prominent for Hearts this season.
“I think you can see from his performances at Hearts he has steadied the ship. They have become much more consistent defensively, he adds quality with everything he does.
“Your first line of sight is how he has played against you and he’s always done very well so I think he was well worth a call-up to have a look and give him his chance.
“Jordan is the unknown quantity for me. I’ve seen footage of him from the Championship but my promise to him is I will go and see him in person so he has the same chance as everyone.”
As with every member of the squad, McLaughlin will have an equal chance of playing at Hampden with Woods set to advise McLeish on which of the three goalkeepers he thinks should be given the nod.
He said: “It’s a new manager, a clean sheet, so everyone has a chace to ut down a marker and have an opinion with everybody.
“After my first session with them I had an idea of how I felt they performed. But I would never judge them on one session because sometimes adrenaline takes over, new situation, new training facilities, new coach, a new voice. All these things.
“I’ll be able to make a better assessment of them as far as a pecking order is concerned and then I will go to Alex. Anyone who comes in and plays well against Costa Rica will have the jersey for the next game because they have possession.”
Woods and McLeish have known each other for many years and he admitted he was delighted when Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers told him he’d been in touch wanting him to join his Scotland backroom staff.
He said: “I was Alex’s first signing when he became manager at Motherwell. Sieb Dijkstra had gone to Queens Park Rangers and Alex went to Alan Hodgkinson [then Scotland’s goalkeeping coach] for goalkeepers.
“Alan had just seen me in the play-off finals at Wembley for Preston against Wycombe Wanderers and he recommended me. I had Alex as my manager for a year-and-a-half before he went to Hibs, so we have known each other for a long time.”
Although combining his duties with Celtic and Scotland will be demanding, Woods is convinced he can do both, saying: “I first knew about it when Brendan told he Alex had phone for permission to speak to me and how did I feel. I told him it had to be with his blessing or not at all.
“Brendan said he and Peter [Lawwell, Celtic’s chief executive] thought it was a great idea, but it couldn’t interfere with the work I do at Celtic. If it didn’t, I had their full blessing.”
It is, however, a touchy point in the Woods household as a “big special” birthday present for his wife of a trip to New York has been cancelled in favour of Scotland’s summer tour of Mexico and Peru.
He said: “I managed to get all my money back, but she’s not happy. That is the sacrifice of working for your country – you get a bit of earache from the missus.”
Woods insisted he was as excited to be involved with Scotland as he was as a player, even if he never quite managed to win that elusive cap. He said: “Euro 96 was the big time for me, I was selected six times, travelling away with the squad. I loved being in Scotland squads, it meant a lot to me to be selected. But the goalkeepers in front of me were Andy Goram, Jim Leighton and Bryan Gunn, while Nicky Walker was involved as well at times. I’m quite happy when I can say Jim, with his record at the time, kept me out.”