At the age of just 20, Ali McCann has proved in one match that he is already a “proper international player” according to his club manager.
The hallmarks of the St Johnstone midfielder’s game so recognisable to Callum Davidson were in evidence throughout his weekend debut for Northern Ireland.
And the fact that McCann was able to make such a seamless transition from domestic football to the Nations League at such a young age shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“I watched Ali’s game on Sunday and thought he was really good,” said Davidson.
“The biggest thing you can say is that he didn’t look out of place. He was up against very good opposition and looked a proper international player.
“His movement, his athleticism and his composure on the ball was there for all to see.
“He’s only 20.
“People sometimes forget how young he is because he’s made such an impact for us.
“So to get your first international cap at that age and do so well, it’s great for him. He will have learned from playing alongside Paddy McNair and will only get better from it.”
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 16, 2020
Ian Baraclough didn’t substitute McCann in Sunday night’s game against Austria until the last few minutes.
That was a sign of the trust the Northern Ireland boss already has in a player he knew well from the under-21s.
And when McCann was making his way to the touchline after his number came up, Davidson saw a familiar reaction that coaches love.
“He played 80-odd minutes the other day and that shows the confidence the manager has in him because it was an important game for them,” said the Perth boss.
“I watched him coming off and he was shaking his head, which was him saying he felt he could have done better.
“That’s what he’s like and is something I really like about him. He’s always desperate to improve and do better.”
Ali has got that intelligence which means he can adapt to different systems.
Davidson has deployed McCann in different roles for Saints so far this season, having been impressed by the “intelligence” he brings to his work through the week and on a match day.
“When you put on a complex training session he’s one of the ones first to understand it and get to grips with what you want them doing,” he said.
“Ali’s got that intelligence which means he can adapt to different systems and playing against different teams.
“I was delighted for him and I’m sure he’ll come back having got a real boost from getting the first cap.
“Ali will want to keep adding bits to his game because he’ll see from the experience of being an international where he needs to get better.”
The draw for the last 16 of the Betfred Cup will mean Saints and Motherwell meet each other on consecutive weekends.
The league clash comes first at McDiarmid Park on Saturday, with Davidson preparing his team to encounter a Scotland bounce from their opponents.
“It’s a tough draw but you expect that at this stage of the competition,” he said. “Motherwell are a good side and we’re focused on the game against them this weekend first.
“They will have two players coming back from Scotland duty (Declan Gallagher and Stephen O’Donnell) on a massive high after helping us qualify.
“They have had a season similar to most of us in the league because getting that consistency is what we’re all striving for.
“After a slow start they have been winning games recently, that’s the kind of league it is this season.
“You have the top four who are a bit detached and then in behind the rest of us are all scrapping.
“Taking your chances is massive and they have been doing that.
“They have a very good squad, a lot of quality in it and this weekend whoever gets the first goal will give themselves a real chance of winning it.
“We come into it on the back of a good win up at Peterhead. I was delighted to get games into some players.
“The Betfred has been great for us on that front, we’ve given games to players who have needed it and we’re looking forward to the league starting again now.”