John McGinn can be regarded as one of Hibs' all-time greats
After three mark-making years at Hibs, John McGinn departs with his name firmly established in the pantheon of the club's 21st century icons.
Given his impact, accomplishments and popularity while wearing a green and white shirt, the 23-year-old has earned the right to be bracketed alongside luminaries of the club’s modern history like Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy, Scott Brown and Derek Riordan.
In 50 years’ time, for instance, no matter what Hibs go on to achieve in the intervening period, supporters old enough to recall these giddying post-relegation renaissance years will wax lyrical about the great John McGinn and how he was the poster boy of a team that helped the club reconnect with its support following almost a decade of decline culminating in demotion from the top flight in 2014.
As is always the case with wistful recollections, no-one will dwell on the fact his first appearance came as a second-half substitute in an ignominious Championship defeat away to Dumbarton. Instead they will remember how he largely excelled in his first season (2015/16), playing almost every match in a marathon campaign under Alan Stubbs that climaxed with a landscape-altering Scottish Cup triumph. McGinn was then influential in the famous away win over Brondby just two months later before helping drive Neil Lennon’s team to the Championship title. Upon returning to the Premiership last season, he took his game to a new level as Hibs roared impressively into the top four at the first time of asking. Goals against both Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow highlighted his burgeoning status as one of the top midfielders in the country, a point given further credence by the fact he was nominated for PFA Scotland’s Premiership player of the year award in April. Amid all this, McGinn carried himself superbly off the field, endearing him to everyone who met him with his sharp west-coast wit and a general amiable nature. There were no airs and graces with this humble and engaging Clydebank boy, who was a popular member of the dressing-room.
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Although there have been times in the past three years when team-mates like Anthony Stokes, Jason Cummings, Florian Kamberi and Dylan McGeouch have temporarily had the limelight, there can be little argument that McGinn has been Hibs’ outstanding player throughout the duration of his time at the club and indeed over the past decade and more. While the likes of Stokes, Cummings and Kamberi brought most of the big game-changing goals between them, and McGeouch, when fit, was capable of orchestrating play in a more cultured manner than most in Scotland, McGinn was the heartbeat of Hibs, the irrepressible, fearless bundle of energy driving the team forward, battering his way through opposition midfields, thundering into tackles and, latterly, pinging delightful cross-field passes into the paths of marauding wide men.
Supporters first started singing about him being “better than Zidane” without months of his arrival and he has continually risen in stature ever since, to the point where, as a handful of players tend to do at the two Edinburgh clubs every decade, he simply outgrew Hibs. As the only player at Easter Road - or at any Scottish club outwith Celtic, for that matter - to become a Scotland regular during a period of England-based dominance within the national squad, McGinn has been consistently lauded by Lennon and was even hyped by the manager as a player worth £5m. Although branded a fanciful assertion by many, the fact McGinn was ultimately sold to Aston Villa for a significant chunk of that amount despite having less than a year of his contract to run suggests Lennon was pretty much on the money all along.
Even when his race looked run at Hibs, amid strong, head-turning interest from Celtic over the past month, McGinn kept going to the very end, maintaining his dignity and professionalism and continuing to help the Easter Road club scale new heights. It was fitting for a man who did so much for the team that he should mark his penultimate match in green and white by scoring the goal, against Asteras Tripolis in Greece a week ago, that secured the club’s finest two-legged European triumph of the modern era.
McGinn is the seventh member of the 2016 Scottish Cup-winning starting XI to exit Hibs, leaving behind only the defensive quartet of David Gray, Darren McGregor, Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson from the side that started the famous 3-2 victory over Rangers a little over two years ago. Of this team of legends, no departure has been or will be felt as keenly among supporters and team-mates as that of McGinn, who defied his relative youthfulness to become the most influential player in one of the most revered Hibs sides in history. It’s safe to say he would have settled for such elevated status when arriving at Easter Road in 2015 after being forced to ponder a move to Houston Dynamo when no other British club came forward to pay a compensation fee to St Mirren in the wake of the Paisley club’s relegation and his own loss of early-career momentum.
While Hibs have clearly been good for John McGinn over the past three years, John McGinn has been sensational for Hibs. A prominent place within club folklore will attest to that.