LIAM KELLY will be forever grateful to Alex McLeish for affording him a first experience of the Scotland set-up.
However, the transient, cruel nature of football dictates that the Livingston goalkeeper has already turned his attention to ensuring the next man in the Hampden hot-seat takes notice of his exploits.
Kelly earned a richly-deserved call-up for Scotland’s ill-fated double-header against Kazakstan and San Marino last month and, notwithstanding the forgettable performances, the ex-Rangers stopper lapped up every moment of his involvement.
A humiliating 3-0 reverse in Astana preceded an unconvincing win over the lowest-ranked nation in the world, ultimately signalling the end of McLeish’s time with the national side.
However, Kelly hopes it proves to be just the start of his own.
He said: “I will always be thankful to Alex [McLeish] for calling me up for Scotland. It was a big surprise to me to be named in the squad in the first place and everything was enjoyable – except the results!
“I loved the experience of being in the national set-up.
“It was like the first day of school but there were a few boys in the same situation as me. Stuart Findlay and Marc McNulty were in the same boat as new recruits, so it wasn’t so bad.
“I have played against most of the boys before so I knew most of them anyway.
“I was made to feel really welcome by everyone and we were all treated equally. Training was great under the goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods and I was delighted to be there.
“I have had a taste and I just want more of it, that’s the level I aspire to play at. It is unfortunate Alex has lost his job. However, I need to keep doing well for the club and hope the next manager picks me.”
There is no doubt Kelly will be on the radar of the next man to grasp the Scottish FA’s seemingly poison chalice.
No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets in the Premiership this term, with his shutout against Celtic earlier this month taking his tally to 14, one more than St Johnstone’s Zander Clark and Rangers stopper Allan McGregor.
That is a personal point of pride for Kelly and a record he intends to improve upon during the run-in, starting against St Mirren on Saturday.
Kelly continued: “Clean sheets are hard to get, especially in this league. I keep track of them in the same way strikers keep track of goals although there are some on the list that had nothing to do with me!
“Sometimes the boys in front of me have kept teams out, but I’ll still count them – even if I haven’t had a save to make.”
That throws the impending loss of defensive rocks Craig Halkett and Declan Gallacher to Hearts and Motherwell, respectively, into even sharper relief.
Kelly continued: “I am thankful how hard the boys in front of me work to keep teams out. It will be hard to replace top players like Declan and Craig, but the people at the club recruited them, so hopefully, they can bring in boys to do a similar job.
“It will be difficult because they are quality players, but Alan Lithgow will be here and we will just see who comes in.
“We will probably be underdogs again next season but we want to surprise people again.”
No ‘shorts and flip-flops’ for Livi – Gary Holt
Livingston boss Gary Holt has challenged his players to emerge unbeaten from their final five matches as he promised the Lions would not rest on their laurels despite their safety being assured.
He said: “We can’t afford to have five games where we just turn up with the shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops on, thinking we’re going to the beach. That won’t happen on my watch. You might not be staying here next year if that’s the case.
“Hopefully, we can win on Saturday and that’ll kick-start a wee five-game unbeaten run.
“That is the challenge we have laid down to the players: can we go the rest of the campaign without defeat?”