Scotland Under-21 boss Ricky Sbragia believes Hibs midfielder John McGinn has gone from strength-to-strength following his move to Easter Road.
McGinn capped an impressive first season in Edinburgh not only by helping Hibs win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years, but by being called up by Gordon Strachan and then producing a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Denmark.
Now the former St Mirren youngster is set to cement his place in Strachan’s squad as one of those charged with getting Scotland’s 2018 World Cup campaign off to a flying start against Malta.
McGinn’s promotion has robbed Sbragia of one of his key players, denting further the young Scots’ hopes of qualifying for their own European Championship finals but, he insisted, he couldn’t be happier .
Announcing his squad for their next two qualifiers, against Macedonia at Tynecastle a week on Friday and a trip to face Ukraine four days later, Sbragia said: “The move from St Mirren to Hibs has been fantastic for John.
“As a player he has developed, physically he looks stronger, leaner. He has worked extremely hard. I miss him at 21s, but really pleased he has gone up to the big squad, I would never want him back.”
While McGinn made his move when Alan Stubbs was head coach of Hibs, Sbragia believes the 21-year-old will keep listening and learning under new boss Neil Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker.
He said: “There will be lots of information for John, but he likes to get information. He’s open to it, he takes it in and is open to criticism.
“Over the last couple of years he has developed into a first-team player and at Hibs he’s stamping his authority on games. Moving up to the main squad is a big step-up, particularly so for a young player coming from the Championship, but John is a worker.
“He doesn’t care what game it is, what division it is in, he gives it his all. You know what you are going to get from him, He’s everything you could want from a midfielder and he’s been playing first team football from an early age.”
Scotland skipper Scott Brown’s retirement from international football has raised the question of who can fill the void left by the Celtic midfield powerhouse, with former Hibs and Hearts star Michael Stewart suggesting that, in time, McGinn could be that player in terms of someone who can drive a team from the middle of the park.
Sbragia agrees there’s plenty of potential there, but added: “John’s box-to-box, a winner. He likes to get into the box, likes a shot although he’s not too clever at scoring at times – but he did hit the bar for Hibs at the weekend.
“I think John is a different sort of player to Scott, but I think John McGinn can be John McGinn.”
While Sbragia has lost McGinn, he’s delighted to have seen his Easter Road team-mate Jason Cummings hit the ground running this season, claiming five goals in three games.
Named in Sbragia’s squad along with Hearts kids Liam Smith, John Souttar and Sam Nicholson alongside the on-loan Jordan McGhee and Billy King, Cummings found himself the subject of a bid rising to an eye-watering £1.7 million from Peterborough which was immediately rejected by Hibs.
And Sbragia believes the striker’s head won’t be turned by any transfer talk and will, instead, devote himself to scoring the goals which will, hopefully, win Hibs promotion.
He said: “It’s a big thing for him when there’s a lot of interest. But I think he’s committed to Hibs. That’s extremely important, that he’s committed to the cause. He probably felt a bit down that they didn’t get promotion last season, but this is a massive year for him.
“He’s a prolific goal-scorer and for our level I wish he had scored more. We’ve created some for him that he’s not put away.
“But you see week in, week out, he’s scoring goals and for a centre-forward that’s the main thing in the game.
“People will say to me he doesn’t hold up the ball. No, he just scores goals, which is a bit of knack.
“He’s always worked hard and he has a wee edge about him. He deserves it. I don’t know what his plans are, but if he keeps on scoring goals he’ll have a great career in football.”
As happy as he is for both McGinn and Cummings, Sbragia admitted he was distraught for their Hibs team-mate Danny Handling who has found his time with the Under-21s ended by the cartilage injury suffered a few weeks ago following the torn anterior cruciate which put him out for much of last season.
He said: “Danny had sent me a text saying he was looking to coming back. He had a goal to work to and he’s a bit devastated.
“I told him to be positive, that the main purpose now is to get fit and get back in the Hibs first team.”