Main photo credit: Stuart Chalmers
By Calum Woodger
Gordon Strachan’s original squad announcement was met with uproar from the Tartan Army, with many baffled by the Scotland manager’s omissions from the group charged with downing England on June 10.
With four goalkeepers and three left backs selected in the provisional squad, midfielders Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen) and Calum McGregor (Celtic) were unlucky to have missed out on the Auld Enemy clash at Hampden.
When that squad was further cut to 24, the axe too swung for ex-St Mirren central-midfielders Kenny McLean (Aberdeen) and John McGinn (Hibernian).
The cull proves the theory that Strachan overlooks the Scottish leagues’ best performers in favour of those plying their trade down south.
Gordon Strachan has been accused of failing to pick Scottish Premiership players
The initial selection of the former St Mirren pair left raised eyebrows among the Scotland faithful, with some calling for them to be replaced by Shinnie and McGregor.
Yet, they seem to forget their own battle cry when it came to the removal of McGinn and McLean from the group, top young players in the Scottish game once again going overlooked.
McLean (25) had an impressive first run-out in a friendly against the Czech Republic in March 2016, but has not featured since despite a stellar season with the Dons.
The left-footer notched five goals this season as the Reds finished second in the Premiership, McLean is a mercurial talent who splits opinion and is often over-shadowed by his goal-grabbing Irish team-mates Jonny Hayes, Niall McGinn and Adam Rooney.
Kenny McLean shot to prominence with the Saints
Combative and energetic, McGinn made his debut against Denmark and turned in a man of the match performance in the same month as his former St Mirren team-mate McLean.
McGinn (22) played in Scotland’s second tier for the past two seasons and lifted the Championship title with Hibs in May.
Adding another piece of silverware to last season’s historic Scottish Cup triumph, McGinn is a born winner and should not be under-estimated for his lack of top-league minutes.
Debate over midfield selection may not always be cut and dry, but Scotland’s future engine room could be black and white at its core.
Top talent: St. Mirren academy graduate John McGinn was voted the PFA Championship Player of the Year
The duo’s rise through the ranks together is testament to the youth academy at St Mirren’s Ralston training base, opened in 2009 alongside the club’s new stadium, now serving as the home of Scotland youth.
Stemming back to the appointment of Danny Lennon as manager in 2010 St. Mirren’s system hones home-grown gems and old firm cast-offs, giving them opportunities to shine while playing progressive, attacking football.
McLean himself, formerly of Rangers, began to get noticed under Lennon in the 2010-11 SPL season. He and McGinn became integral parts of the Lennon era, famously going on to lift the League Cup in 2013.
Often not mentioned in the same breath as the much-heralded youth academies at Hibs, Dundee United and Hamilton, the St. Mirren academy continues to churn out international class talent despite the club’s current position in Scotland’s second tier.
Previously led by David Longwell, the five-star set-up is now run by ex-pro Allan McManus and has since produced current Scotland unders stars Stevie Mallan, Lewis Morgan, Kyle Magennis and Kyle McAllister. All of whom played their part in the Saints’ great escape from Championship relegation under Jack Ross.
Howitzer: Mallan rose to prominence with this goal for the Buddies against Dundee in 2014
Messrs Mallan (21) and McAllister (18) have gone on to earn moves down south to English Championships side Barnsley and Derby County respectively, whilst Morgan (20) and Magennis (18) will continue to turn out in black and white next season.
Mallan, the most experienced with over 100 senior games and 30 goals to his name, has all the makings of a Scotland star if he continues to perform in the English Championship. Whilst Morgan and Magennis can only benefit from more first-team football in 2017/18 after impressive showings under Ross.
Paisley boy Magennis is currently strutting his stuff in France with the under-20s, competing against the world’s best young stars at the 45th annual Toulon Tournament.
With Mallan and Morgan recently starring in the under-21’s goalless draw with Estonia in March, St. Mirren’s conveyor belt of talent shows no sign of slowing down.
M is the letter on everyone’s lips at St. Mirren and if they can continue to develop over the coming months and years Mallan, Morgan, McAllister and Magennis will soon be threatening McLean and McGinn’s status as the country’s magnificent midfield maestros.