In that sense, Grant Hanley seems made for Scotland’s absolute loudhailer of the World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine on Wednesday night – an encounter that screams out biggest qualifier for the national team in 23 years. That is because the Norwich City captain appears possessed of professional, invisible earmuffs. Suggested by his musings on what befell his de él by Scotland team-mate Billy Gilmour as the pair were powerless to prevent the Carrow Road club plunging through the Premier League trap door.
The 20-year-old seemed to bear the brunt of Norwich supporters’ frustration over their club’s relegation, only one year on from their team having ripped it up to claim the Championship title. Perhaps Gilmour’s status as a loan signing from Chelsea made him an easy target. Whatever, after Gilmour was booed by a section of the home fans in January social media was awash with punters laying waste to the youngster’s contribution in Norwich’s downfall. All of which seemed to pass Hanley by.
“To be honest, it’s the first I’ve heard of that,” said the 30-year-old center-back. “I never realized any of that stuff was going on. And I’m sure Billy is mature enough not to look at that sort of stuff either. Whether you are right or wrong, I’m not sure. It’s clear to see Billy is, and he is going, to be a top, top player. Obviously he was involved in a team that got relegated so he will naturally be disappointed. But in football, as in general life, if you have a setback or go through a tough period, you learn from that. When Billy learns from that he will come back a better player. There is no doubt in my mind he will be a top player. You see that in his performances of him.”
Hanley, as he believes with Scotland talisman Gilmour, won’t play the past or the future, but the present when Ukraine are faced at Hampden. “I like to keep things simple,” he said, when it was jokingly put to him that, after the first cap and first goal of his 42-cap international career came against Wales, there might seem a sense of the pre-ordained in setting up a June 5 play-off final against this nation. “If you know me you’ll know I’m not a big believer in that kind of stuff,” the player said.
Hanley has become one of the go-to men for Steve Clarke since the national manager ended the defender’s three-year wait for a cap in March of last year. The responsibility and trust placed on his shoulders by him thanks to a renaissance that has changed perceptions of him among the Tartan Army appears to sit lightly. “I don’t think my mindset is different,” he said. “As you go through your career and gain experience, you try to use it to help with performances. It’s just an honor to play for my country. Every time I get selected or get a start, it’s important to show how grateful you are, and how much it means. That’s my mindset, it’ll always be an honor for me.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.