Ta’Qali rather than Turriff will be on John McGinn’s mind

John McGinn will hope to add to his solitary Scotland cap. Pic: TSPL
John McGinn will hope to add to his solitary Scotland cap. Pic: TSPL
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While many of his Easter Road team-mates will be heading for The Haughs, home to Highland Legaue outfit Turriff United, for an Irn-Bru Cup third-round tie, Hibs midfielder John McGinn’s sights are very much on the World Cup.

As Neil Lennon’s squad travel north, McGinn has gone south hoping to be part of 
Gordon Strachan’s plans as Scotland begin another qualifying campaign, with the bid to make it to Russia in 2018 
beginning in Malta.

This Sunday’s match at Ta’Qali, the Mediterranean island’s national stadium, represents a return to familiar territory for the 21-year-old as it is little more than three months since he was there as part of the Scotland squad which faced Italy as they warmed up for this summer’s European Championships in France.

Injury prevented McGinn playing in both that match and the friendly against the French a few days later in Metz but having made a man-of-the-match debut against Denmark earlier this year, the former Scotland Under-21 captain is desperate to continue establishing himself at full international level. Of his previous visit to Malta, McGinn said: “Unfortunately I got injured in a training session but the manager and staff were keen for me to stay and get the experience, so I did a bit of 
rehab there.

“Watching Italy and France was incredible. I wish I could have been on the pitch playing against them, but you see a lot from the side. It also helped me being in and about the squad, getting to know the people and the players so I feel really settled and I hope I can focus on my football and the rest will take care of itself.

“It’s up to me to show what I can do and compete with the top players who are in the squad and play alongside them.”

Scotland will go into their first qualifying match as favourites, with the more rigorous tests against England, Slovenia, Slovakia and Lithuania to come, but McGinn insists Strachan’s players know the importance of getting off to a winning start, with Hearts’ shock Europa League defeat at the hands of Maltese side Birkirkara fresh in everyone’s minds.

The former St Mirren youngster said: “The first game in any qualifying group is always difficult. The main things is to get the win and get off to a good start. It’s never easy going away in a qualifier – you want to play well but as long as you get the result no-one really cares how you do it.

“We’re working hard to give ourselves the best chance possible. There will be no complacency from us. We know they can be dangerous but the backroom staff have watched them a lot. There’s plenty of preparation that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t see and we’ll do as much work on Malta as we’did for Italy and France. We’ll be as professional as we can be.”

Although Sunday’s game doesn’t kick off until 8.45pm, the heat in Malta could prove a problem although, insisted McGinn, Strachan’s players will be well versed in how to counter the condtions. He said: “The majority of the boys in the squad have played across Europe and we know what we are going into.

“You adapt your game, you can’t go chasing the ball about for 90 minutes. It’s the same for both sides although they’ll be more used to it.”

Strachan’s squad has been given a youthful makeover, with McGinn joined in the squad by Hearts youngsters Jack Hamilton and Callum Paterson, Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, Barrie McKay of Rangers and Oliver Burke, the 19-year-old who has just joined German Bundesliga outfit Lokomotiv Leipzig for a record Scottish transfer fee of £13 million.

McGinn claimed these 
youngsters are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of players pushing for a place in Strachan’s plans. He said: “A good few of us have come in and shown we can compete. We’ve shown we can play and hopefully we can continue to do that.

“There are a lot coming through, we’ve a great squad in the Under-21s so hopefully others will make it.”

While adamant he’d have happily joined his Easter Road team-mates on their journey into the unknown had Scotland not come calling, McGinn admitted he is bitterly disappointed to be missing Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial dinner on Saturday night, an event for Hibs’ longest-serving player for which all 900 tickets sold in just three days.

Such is the esteem in which Stevenson is held within the dressing-room, there’s been plenty of support for the fundraising which will see sizeable sums donated to two charities, McGinn himself the subject of one auction offer of an afternoon shooting pool with the player.

Skipper David Gray will host a round of gold at Archerfield, Paul Hanlon and Stevenson himself, complete with the Scottish Cup, will visit one fan’s home to speak about that day at Hampden over a cup of tea.

Even the WAGs are in on the act, with Stevenson’s wife Julia, Hanlon’s wife Danielle, Gray’s fiancee Hayley and Fraser Fyvie’s girlfriend Lauren offering to host a match-day lunch.

McGinn said: “I’d have been happy enough to go to Turriff. We want to win every competition we are in and I am sure whoever goes up there on 
Sunday will be looking to do that. But I am gutted to be missing Lewy’s dinner. I’d have liked to have paid my respects. He’s had a brilliant career, he’s one of the best guys in football and it’s great that’s being recognised. He’s a great role model for the youngsters coming through, even for myself. He’s someone we all look up to.

“I think they could 
probably have sold two or three times the number of tickets, no 
bother. I’d do anything for Lewy. Paul Hanlon texted me to ask if I’d play pool and although I wouldn’t call pool a hobby of mine, it’s an afternoon to enjoy in support of a good cause.

“There are lots of different events and items in the auction, the WAGS have proved a good talking point in the dressing room. In fact, big Marv [Bartley] and I are considering putting in a bid ...”