PAUL HANLON is adamant he never gave up on his international dream as the Hibernian stalwart vowed to embrace the challenge of retaining his place in the Scotland squad.
Hanlon, arguably enjoying the form of his career, made his dark blue debut at the age of 30 against the Czech Republic on Wednesday evening, entering the fray after 79 minutes to help the hosts see out a 1-0 triumph.
The outing from the bench capped – no pun intended – a whirlwind 48 hours for the classy defender, given he was only called up as a replacement for Leeds United captain Liam Cooper at the start of the week.
Nevertheless, it was a fitting reward for someone who has racked up more than 400 appearances for the Hibees and was formerly a regular for Scotland at youth level.
“That was right up there with my career highlights,” smiled Hanlon, recalling the moment he took to the hallowed Hampden turf. “To get in a squad and win my first cap is something I’ve worked towards for a long time.
“I played a number of games with the 19s and 21s over the years but just never managed to get that senior cap until now.
“But I always had that belief. Although I knew I might need injuries or other people pulling out of squads, I thought that I would get a chance if I got in squads and did well in training.
“After waiting for that moment, once I was on the pitch it was like ‘oh right, I’ve really got a job to do now!’
“Before the game, I’d have taken one minute on the pitch and get my cap – but looking back I’m happy to have come on in such a big game and contributed to a great win.”
Now Hanlon, who boasts more interceptions than any other centre-half in Scottish football this term, has got greedy.
A taste of international football has only whetted his appetite for more, particularly with the mouth-watering European Championship playoff final against Serbia up next on November 12.
The carrot of being part of the group which ends Scotland’s exile from major finals will drive him during Hibs’ next four fixtures, starting with today’s trip to face Ross County.
“It just gives you a taste for it,” continued Hanlon. “I want to do it again. I know there is a lot of competition for places but if I can keep my form going with Hibs then there’s no reason why not.
“The manager has shown trust in me to put me on at such a vital stage of a massive game. However, I know that I need to come back to Hibs and play very well.
“We have started the season off well and if we can keep that going then myself, Ryan [Porteous], Paul McGinn and even someone like Kevin Nisbet – who can’t be far away – have a much better chance.”
And what of the aforementioned Ryan Porteous, who was named in the initial squad only to see his club teammate drafted in at the eleventh hour to debut ahead of him?
“I don’t think he would have put his hand up to play left wing-back anyway!” laughed Hanlon. “No, listen, his time is definitely going to come. There’s no doubt about that. He just needs to be patient.
“He’s not showing any disappointment. Ryan was selected in the original squad, which is a massive confidence boost in itself. Wednesday was just a case of the way the game was going.
“It could have been the other side of the pitch and he would have gone on, or it could have been Paul [McGinn]. But circumstances meant it was me and I was proud to.
“However, the way Ryan is progressing – he’ll have a massive future and Scotland recognition will be a big part of that.”