For Marc McNulty, nothing will ever usurp the feeling of raw emotion and personal pride that accompanied making his Scotland debut.
However, excelling in front of 50,000 fans at Wembley Stadium as Coventry won the League Two playoff final — clutching that hard-earned trophy while wrapped in the Saltire and surrounded by his family — comes a mighty a close second.
McNulty has proved he can handle the big occasion.
That 3-1 triumph over Exeter City with the Sky Blues came in 2018 and capped a campaign in which he netted 28 goals in all competitions.
Three years earlier, he shone in the League Cup with Sheffield United as they took Tottenham Hotspur all the way in the semi-final before agonisingly losing out 3-2 on aggregate.
McNulty was the man who bagged the only goal of the game in the previous round as the Blades — still in League One at the time — stunned Southampton 1-0.
So, the twice capped marksman is unlikely to be overawed by Sunday’s trip to face Aberdeen. Fighting for the opportunity to perform at a national stadium is slap bang in McNulty’s wheelhouse.
Indeed, he would have played in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibernian, had that not been put on ice due to the pandemic.
“I’ve been involved in a few big games down in England — winning the play-offs with Coventry and in the League Cup semi-final with Sheffield United against Spurs,” recalled McNulty.
“We played a few Premiership teams with Sheffield United that season (2014/15), then Spurs home and away in the semi-final – we narrowly lost out and were really unfortunate.
“All these small experiences help you along the way as a pro and you learn from them.
“The Coventry playoff final is one of my career highlights, although I always think about winning my Scotland caps for that question.
“Winning at Wembley in front of 50,000 Coventry fans and my family being down there; it was brilliant. A proud moment. It was 30 degrees but I still had the big Scotland flag wrapped round me!”
It would be wrong, however, to suggest McNulty has no experience of starring at the home of Scottish football.
He contrasts the boisterous celebrations and deafening roar under the Wembley arches to the stoney silence in Mount Florida when he featured for Livingston in a 3-2 defeat against Queen’s Park.
A teenage McNulty entered the fray as a second-half substitute as the Lions were eliminated from the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup on a sleepy July afternoon in 2010.
“The fact there was only about 30 people there means I know what it will be like if we can get there,” he laughs. “No, it would be special to get to Hampden for a semi-final; it’s the stuff you dream of as a kid.
“Knowing what’s at stake means the manager won’t have to fire anyone up.”
The black humour does little to disguise his disappointment at the ongoing absence of fans. During his chat with the assembled media, he repeatedly mentions how much players miss the encouragement and atmosphere created by the punters.
It is particularly acute for games such as this: the newly-enthused Aberdeen fanbase keen to see how Stephen Glass’ charges are shaping up, and a merry travelling support dreaming of Hampden. Pittodrie would have been bouncing.
Nevertheless, McNulty is adamant that, even without vociferous backing, United’s players are driven to turn a solid season into an unforgettable one.
“It’s going to be very difficult but if you don’t think you can win it, then there’s no point turning up for the game,” said McNulty, when asked whether United are confident they can lift the trophy come May.
“If we can do it it would be a special season. Why can’t it be us?
“Most people will write us off going up there, but I know what the boys are capable of and we are gradually getting better and better every week.”
The trip to the Granite City will afford McNulty with the opportunity to exchange pleasantries — and a few jovial digs, no doubt — with his old Easter Road teammate Flo Kamberi, whose stint at Aberdeen shows signs of creaking into life lately.
“I played with big Flo at Hibs, he’s a great lad and a really good player,” continued McNulty. “He might not come across this way to outsiders, but he’s really funny and a great lad. I can’t speak highly enough about him.
“I know he moved on from Hibs and it didn’t work out, but that happens sometimes. It was a bit of a slow start but sometimes that’s what happens when you join a new club — I know that myself!
“Sometimes you start like a house on fire and other times it can be a bit difficult, but he’s a top player and we’ll need to be wary of him.”
— SPFL (@spfl) April 12, 2021
As McNulty alludes to, he is no stranger to Kamberi’s situation: joining a new club on loan and being charged with proving yourself all over again.
With another year left on his deal at Reading and scarce acknowledgement of his efforts north of the border from Royals boss Veljko Paunovic, that could be his fate again next term.
That is a conundrum for another day, albeit he knows his stock would rise immeasurably if he adds another piece of silverware to his cabinet.
“If I wear a Scottish Cup winners’ medal round my neck in to training, that might help me out,” laughed McNulty. “No, I’ve not spoken to him [Paunovic] since I came here, although I’ve had a few chats with a couple of other people at the club.
“I keep in touch with a few of the players as well.
“But, I just want to enjoy the rest of my time at Dundee United, hopefully be successful and then I’ll see what the future holds in the summer.”