Clarke defends selection of four Kilmarnock players in first Scotland squad
Eamonn Brophy, Greg Taylor, Stephen Findlay and Stephen O’Donnell have all been included.
Steve Clarke insisted his Kilmarnock quartet fully deserved their place in his first Scotland squad after he handed first call-ups to Eamonn Brophy and Greg Taylor.
Taylor joins fellow full-back Stephen O’Donnell and uncapped centre-back Stephen Findlay in the squad for next month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Belgium, while Brophy is included in the absence of several experienced strikers.
Clarke led Kilmarnock to third place in the Ladbrokes Premiership 24 hours before taking the Scotland job and he backed the Rugby Park contingent to justify his faith.
The 55-year-old said: “People will look at it and probably think, ‘he’s just picking players from Kilmarnock for the sake of it’. It’s not true. All the boys deserve to be there.
“Stephen O’Donnell is an established player at right-back, seven caps. Stuart Findlay was in the last squad that Alex (McLeish) picked, Stuart has had a great season.
“We have one or two injury problems in the left-back position, Andy Robertson has still to get through the Champions League final, Kieran Tierney is out, Barry Douglas, who I spoke to, is also injured.
“So it was just a case of promoting Greg up from the very good performances he has had for Scotland Under-21s. He had a terrific season, probably the most consistent left-back in the SPL, so he deserves his chance.
“Up front I have a lot of injury problems and Eamonn Brophy was an obvious choice for me.”
With Leigh Griffiths still unavailable, Steven Naismith and Oli McBurnie missing through injury and Steven Fletcher still absent, Brophy will challenge Marc McNulty, Johnny Russell and Oliver Burke for a place up front.
The 23-year-old has scored 18 league goals in two seasons for Kilmarnock since moving from Hamilton.
“I think he would have scored more goals last season if he hadn’t had so many injury problems,” Clarke said. “He had one or two injury issues that he couldn’t quite shake off.
“Towards the end of the season when he got himself fit, the games ran out. I’m hoping Eamonn shows the same attitude that he shows day in, day out at Kilmarnock. He worked hard and he’s a natural goalscorer.”
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Hull goalkeeper David Marshall and Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney have been recalled, while Aberdeen defender Michael Devlin and Celtic winger Lewis Morgan are also included.
There are no places for Matt Ritchie or Robert Snodgrass, who had been missing from recent squads whilst managing fitness issues.
Clarke – who named a 27-man squad – revealed he had held “lots of really positive conversations” with players who are not in the squad.
He added: “Obviously at this stage of the season and the time I came into the job, there’s a very short space of time to try and get people to change their plans.
“I think three of the boys I spoke to have got their weddings this year. Those things take a lot of planning and organising.
“But out of all the conversations I have had, and there’s been many, I would say 90 per cent have been positive. So I take a lot of good heart from that.
“When I spoke to all the players, I told them all the conversations would remain private between me and them.”
Clarke confirmed his backroom staff would include his former Kilmarnock assistant Alex Dyer, who remains on the staff at Rugby Park, plus former Republic of Ireland international Steven Reid, who has just left a coaching role with West Brom. Celtic goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods will continue in the role he filled under McLeish.