SCOTT McKENNA is relishing the heat of battle with Aberdeen after being left at home in the cold last January.

The young defender has been one of the highlights for the Pittodrie club this campaign ever since he was thrown in against Motherwell back in September. 15 appearances since and the 21-year-old has been a familiar fixture in the side currently sitting second in the Premiership.

However, it’s a long way from where the academy graduate was a year ago. While his team-mates at Aberdeen flew out to Dubai for some much-needed sunshine, McKenna was left at home playing for Ayr United on loan. It turned out to be a grounding that was vital to the development of the ambitious centre-half, and one which makes him appreciate the time away he now has as part of Aberdeen’s UAE travelling party.

“I’m happy to get away especially given the weather at home. It’s far better training out here than it is back in Aberdeen in the freezing cold,” he said. “I missed Dubai last year as I was out on loan at Ayr United. I had Queen of the South away!

“The boys were in the sunshine and I was training at Somerset park.

“I have made progress since last year. I maybe wasn’t playing as well as I should have been down at Ayr, but I had to put that behind me at the start of the season and force my way into he manager’s plans.”

While the luxurious surroundings of Aberdeen’s training complex just outside Dubai will undoubtedly offer McKenna a taste of the big time, you get the impression he is just grateful to be part of a full-time set up no matter where he is.

“Part-time football means you turn up for training on Tuesday and Thursday nights and have a day job,” he explained. “I wanted to stay in full-time football as long as I could and especially at a great club like Aberdeen. In pre-season I was determined to work as hard as I could to get into the team.

“I was training with Aberdeen on a Monday and Tuesday and have a Wednesday off. I’d go down to Glasgow on a Thursday, train that night, have Friday off and then be in for a game on a Saturday.

“Being off the day before a game wasn’t ideal either. It wasn’t what I was used to, but I can’t use that as an excuse for me not playing well.”

He added: “I had been at Ayr before and I knew what to expect. But there was one week when I was left out the squad and didn’t even make the bench. I knew I had only one year left on my contract and I realised I had to make the most of it. I’ve got a bit of security here now and that’s good for the long-term.

“I don’t know what’s been different this year. Maybe I’m seeing the benefits of a good pre-season.

The manager told me I was playing in a league game at Motherwell and I wasn’t nervous - I thought it was a chance for me to show what I could do. There was no point being uptight. If I didn’t play well, then I didn’t play well. But I did ok and I’ve managed to stay in the team ever since.”

It's of course still early days in McKenna’s career but it’s not just Aberdeen fans who will be closely monitoring the progress of the man who signed a new four-year deal back in October. At international level, finding a strong centre-half, let alone a central defensive pairing, has been a major downfall in attempts to get to a major finals, with the likes of Kieran Tierney being dragged into a makeshift back three on occasion. Could McKenna be the answer in years to come?

“I’ve got to keep doing what I do and hopefully I can force my way into that scene in the next couple of years or whenever the manager feels the time is right,” he said.

“I do know there are a lot of good centre-halves out there.

“John Souttar, Ross McCrorie and Jack Hendry have done well and there are others in the English Championship playing at a good level.

“You dream of that when you are younger. If you get in the Under 19 squad you want to make the 21s. Then in the 21s you think about the next step and pushing to the A squad.

“If you are playing week to week in the first team then you will get the chance if you are good enough.”