IT seems like Ali McCann has been strutting his stuff at the heart of St Johnstone’s midfield for years. 

But some may have to be reminded that this will in fact be his first full season in the top-flight of Scottish football

With the pandemic curtailing last season’s campaign early and McCann just breaking through at the tail end of the previous campaign, the 21-year-old is playing in new territory. 

You wouldn’t know it though. 

The Northern Ireland international has made a mark with the national team as well as lifting the League Cup with St Johnstone and securing top six football. 

A European spot is now the aim and with a quarter-final against Rangers on Sunday - a Scottish Cup triumph is also in the sights of the young midfielder. 

“I have felt I’m a better player for being around the Northern Ireland squad,” he said. “I think you get a lot of confidence from playing at that level.  

“Going into my debut against Austria, all their players play in the top leagues around Europe. But after that it gave me confidence that I can compete with them and create a good impression.  

“After that you get more trust from the players in your team, they become confident that you can do a job for them. So it’s a really good learning experience and I feel I have benefitted from it.  

“Training and playing with people who are in the Premier League and the Championship, working every day is a great experience. Even if you don’t play, it’s still great to be in and around that sort of standard.  

“I feel part of the squad now. Obviously when you first go in you’re a bit nervous because you don’t know what it’s going to be like. You don’t know if you’ll be able to get anywhere near them!  

“But after a few days you settle in and it’s all just similar. The standard and intensity is high but you just have to settle in and work hard.” 

McCann’s performances both for club and country have already resulted in nationwide interest. Celtic have already run the rule over his talents, while teams down south have also sat up and taken notice. 

Despite his successes, level-headed McCann is fully focussed on the Perth Saints and he admits there is currently no better place to be playing his football.  

He continued: “You can always improve and there are always ways you can get better. The more games I play here the more I am progressing, so that’s all I’m thinking about at the moment.  

“I’m not really interested in anything else at the minute, I’m just focused on the games we have coming up. It is great to be in and around the club at the moment, winning the cup and getting into the top six.  

“We have a young team, we are doing well and the lads are a great unit. I would like to score more goals and hopefully that will come as time goes on.  

“I want to get more chances and put them away. I want to play every game because I feel fine and it’s getting to the end of the season.  

“I would play every minute if I could, but if the manager feels the need to rotate then it will be for my own benefit. 

“It has been a long season but it has been good. Because of Covid there isn’t much else to be doing anyway! The international games have been great, I wouldn’t want a rest when you are away doing stuff like that anyway.”

McCann enjoyed a hotly contested battle with fellow countryman Steven Davis on Wednesday night. The pair went toe-to-toe at McDiarmid Park and McCann is ready to pick up from where he left off at Ibrox on Sunday. 

On Davis, he said: “The way Steven conducts himself is brilliant, he’s had a great career for a reason. He’s 36 now but is having one of his best seasons, so that is a testament to how good he is.  

“He leads by example, the way he plays and isn’t really a shouter. It’s good to be around that as a young player and you learn a lot from him.  

“Is he a Player of the Year candidate? I’m sure he would be up there because Rangers have won the league convincingly and he’s been one of their best players.”  

McCann added: “We did really well on Wednesday night and definitely deserved the point we got in the end, so that will give us plenty of confidence for Sunday.  

“Even though Rangers changed a few players the team they put out was still strong, so it shows how well we played. I’m sure they will come out all guns blazing on Sunday so we will need to start as well as we did in the last game.  

“We know it’s a tough ask because they have won the league so convincingly and are unbeaten at Ibrox, but we will try to make a fast start ourselves. We will go with loads of belief and hopefully we can do enough to progress.  

“It’s going to be a big task so we will need to be at it and will need to produce one of our best performances.”