BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
JACK HAMILTON has revealed that his maiden international call-up came as such a surprise that even his own parents thought it was a wind-up.
However, as he prepares to link up with Scotland for a third successive gathering, the Hearts goalkeeper is adamant he is starting to feel like he belongs.
The 22-year-old was initially selected as a late replacement for the summer friendlies against France and Italy following the withdrawals of Allan McGregor and Scott Bain, meaning he had to swiftly rearrange his holiday plans – once it became clear the phone-call was not a prank.
Hamilton concedes he felt starstruck during his early sessions along side the likes of Shaun Maloney, Darren Fletcher and Steven Fletcher, but quickly put that out of his mind and set about impressing national boss Gordon Strachan.
And, having retained his place for the subsequent World Cup qualifier against Malta and the upcoming clashes against Lithuania and Slovakia, it appears he has succeeded.
“It’s something you dream of as a kid. To see your name called up is fantastic,” he said. “I remember the first time I got in, Craig [Levein, Hearts director of Football] phoned me. I was a later call-up in the summer.
“I was just getting ready for summer holidays when I got the call. I was in the house getting ready to eat my dinner and I couldn’t believe it. I was a wee bit star-struck thinking about it. My mum and dad thought I was taking the mickey. They just said: ‘Shut up!’ It was fantastic.
“I’m getting a little more used to it now and it’s something I always want to be in. You’re watching the other keepers and trying to learn from them. You’re also trying to get better and be ready in case you’re called upon.
“The first couple of times I was involved I was maybe like ‘wow, I’m training with these guys.’ Now I’m thinking that I’ve got to be there and be ready just in case you get that call.
“It’s been good to have Callum [Paterson] there with me both times as well. I was rooming with him. Having somebody you know is really good and the other goalies are all great with you and the coaching staff all make you welcome.”
Hamilton’s Scotland commitments are indicative of a whirlwind four months for the young stopper.
As well as catching Strachan’s eye, he has cemented his place as Hearts’ first-choice keeper following the summer departure of Neil Alexander.
He admits that he had no idea he was destined to succeed the former Scotland internationalist when he reported for pre-season training – until the removal of number 13 proved lucky for him.
“The first day we were back training, I went through to the kit room and had a wee joke with the kit man,” Hamilton continued. “I was No.13 last season so I was looking in the No.13 spot and saying: ‘Where’s my kit?’
“He said I was No.1 and I thought he was kidding. Then the gaffer pulled me aside and said he was going to give me that chance.
“I was a wee bit shocked but it was a relief as well. It was something I always wanted to do and something I’d worked hard towards. To be given that chance was great and hopefully I can repay him.
“The last few months have been brilliant for me but it’s about just trying to think a game at a time and not get too far ahead of myself. You’re only as good as your last game!
“There’s no point looking too far in front. I’ve got to try to stay in the Hearts team, that’s the main aim.”
As he focuses on continuing his upward trajectory with club and country, Hamilton has a wonderful opportunity to impress a key member of Strachan’s coaching staff tonight when Hearts travel to face Motherwell, managed by Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee.
“Mark [McGhee] has been fine with me. Everybody is there if you need advice, they’re there to help you,” added Hamilton. “It will be good to go there and play his Motherwell team. We need to get the three points so it’s a massive game for us.”