John McGinn enjoyed a stunning first season in a green-and-white shirt, one which culminated not only with a man-of-the match display on his full international debut for Scotland but that memorable afternoon when Hibs’ 114-year Scottish Cup hoodoo was well and truly shattered.
The young midfielder played a pivotal role, becoming an instant favourite among the Easter Road support with his boundless energy and obvious enthusiasm for the game.
But while there’s no doubt the former St Mirren kid thrived under Alan Stubbs and his coaching staff – a fact recognised by Scotland manager Gordon Strachan as he called him up to face Denmark in March – McGinn believes he is ready to move onto another level with Neil Lennon now in charge of the Capital club.
The 21-year-old said: “I feel I flourished under the previous management team, but I feel I have already improved under the new team. I’ve added a couple of things to my game.”
Most evidently, insisted McGinn was his goal in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Motherwell, rising high to get his head to Lewis Stevenson’s cross and bullet the ball into the top corner of the net.
“That wasn’t like me,” he admitted, “but I want to add more goals to my game, getting into the box more, becoming more a box-to-box player and creating more chances.
“Garry Parker had said to me during the week that I had it in my locker to be good in the air but I wasn’t showing it enough, that arriving late in the box makes it much harder for opposition players to pick you up so I was delighted with my goal.”
As McGinn pointed out, it was no more than a pre-season exercise but he believes he and his team-mates produced a performance which promises much for the coming season. He said: “I think they perhaps came here thinking they were the Premiership team and that they were going to beat us, but they got a bit of a shock.
“We were getting the ball out wide, threatening them in the box and I don’t think they were expecting that. If we can do that against Motherwell, a top six team in the top flight, then, with no disrespect we should be able to do it against teams in the Championship and have a right good chance of promotion.”
Hibs did, of course, excel against Premiership sides last season, Aberdeen, Dundee United (twice), St Johnstone, Hearts and Inverness Caley all put the sword as Stubbs’ players made the final of both the League and Scottish Cups but, McGinn conceded, when it came to league action they were found wanting at times for consistency.
However, he feels that will change for the better under Lennon, saying: “What we did show last season was that we have players capable of playing at the highest level. That’s all fair and well, but the truth is we are in the Championship. The manager’s mentality is no matter who we are playing we must be ruthless, no matter if it’s a team in the bottom half or the top of the table, it has to be the three points every time.
“I think last season we were maybe criticised for over-playing at times. This season we’re aiming to be clinical. If we get a chance it’s going to be a goal. It might be a different style of play, but it’s still going to be attractive football which, I am sure, the fans will like.”
McGinn admitted to being surprised to learn that Stubbs had decided to quit Hibs only days after that “mindblowing” cup parade down Leith Walk, but he believes the sight of 150,000 on the city streets simply underlined the potential of the club and helped entice Lennon to Easter Road.
He said: “That was the best weekend of my life, incredible. But after it I went away with Scotland to Malta and France and was focusing on that, but to hear the news that the manager had gone was disappointing. There’s no doubt that he was someone who had improved me a lot, but that’s football. He decided on another opportunity down south which was understandable as his family were down there and he wasn’t getting to see them every night.
“But was I surprised that someone like Neil Lennon then became manager? No. I think the cup final weekend showEd how big this club is and the potential it has. We’ve sold more than 10,000 season tickets which, I understand, is something that’s not happened for a long time. We’re looking to build on what we’ve achieved, to encourage even more fans to come to our games.
“I think the gaffer would see that the club is going in the right direction so, I’d imagine, it was probably a simple decision and it doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s managed at the top level, he took Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League, he and Garry have plenty of experience which they’ll bring to bear.”
Lennon and Parker will get an immediate chance to do so, tomorrow night’s Europa League tie with Danish side Brondby the new management team’s first competitive match and for McGinn and a number of his team-mates their first taste of football at this level.
The former Scotland Under-21 captain said: “If someone had told me a year ago when I signed for Hibs that I’d have played for Scotland, won the Scottish Cup and now had European football to look forward to, I’d have laughed.
“But at the same time I’m delighted. European football is something every player would look forward to being involved in. We’ve been working hard to prepare for it, we can’t be overawed, we have to be ready to take the opportunities that arise in the game.
“Brondby have a good reputation in Europe. There’s a few players I know ... Thomas Kahlenberg who has played plenty of times for Denmark and Teemu Pukki who had that spell with Celtic. I’d imagine they’ll go into the tie as favourites, but we’ve got home advantage so it’s a case of looking to get a good positive result before we go over to Copenhagen next week.”