Have Hibs made a mistake in letting go of Paul McGinn and Matt Macey?
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Plenty of new faces were required this summer as new manager Lee Johnson seeks to transform Hibs from eighth-place struggles into a side fit to qualify for Europe. The recruitment drive is already in full flow with seven signings (the most of any team in the cinch Premiership thus far) but the midweek business also demonstrates his desire to ship out first-team regulars he doesn’t deem worthy.
As a result, Macey joined Luton Town for an undisclosed fee, while McGinn was allowed to join Motherwell.
There was certainly a contrast in fan reaction. McGinn received a warm send off with many wondering whether it was the right decision, while Macey… well, let’s just say it wasn’t as complimentary.
A post on Twitter from a Hearts fan caught the eye of this writer, basically accusing Hibs supporters of being ungrateful for Macey’s efforts and insisting he was one of the better goalkeepers the club has had in recent years.
“Recent years” is a little vague. If we’re talking about the last five years or so, he might have been better than Mark Oxley but he was certainly behind Ofir Marciano and Adam Bogdan, and didn’t even have the kind of standout performance to match that of Conrad Logan against Dundee United in the 2016 final.
This fan, in all probability, was referencing the likes of Simon Brown, Zibby Malkowski or Andy McNeil, who were known for their blunders (especially in derbies) during the mid-noughties. But being called an improvement on them is hardly a glowing endorsement. It’s like saying a Hearts keeper is better than Joel Pereira. Well done with the accomplishment of clearing that one-foot hurdle.
It may seem a little contrite to focus on the opinion of one particular fan, but it’s a decent 280-character summary of what Hibs supporters thought of the (obligatory mention of his height coming here) 6ft 7in goalkeeper and what the rest of the league perceived. He didn’t make many howlers so was widely looked upon as a safe pair of hands. But those who watched closely every week could recount a number of instances where an error wasn’t obvious but he still could’ve done better.
His kicking was also a major bugbear as he managed to be one of the poorer distributors in a league hardly blessed with an abundance of sweeper-keepers.
He certainly wasn’t the worst of custodians and likely did suffer from simply not being Marciano, the man he succeeded as No.1 and someone the Hibs fans adored, but the addition of ex-Scotland international David Marshall should represent a clear improvement. There’s also Kevin Dabrowski, who remains on the books for another season and impressed in reserve last term. Whether Hibs envision Dabrowski as their keeper of the future remains to be seen, but he’s solid as a deputy and there was no need to keep both him and Macey on the books. As soon as Luton Town made their offer, rumoured to be low six figures, it was no surprise to see Macey go. It doesn’t feel like a decision Hibs will come to regret.
There was a more fervent debate around McGinn’s exit. The right-back was a popular man around Leith having initially arrived as an underwhelming addition in the 2020 January window. Everyone loves a story of an underdog proving the doubters wrong as it was certainly the case for Super John’s older brother. He was excellent for 18 months, particularly the 2020/21 season where he was dependable in defence and impacted the attack with his forays forward.
Last term was more of a struggle and it could be slowing down with age as he’ll be 32 this coming autumn. Though it could be argued he toiled because the team as a whole faltered. Sometimes players can stand out in underperforming sides, Harry Clarke’s eight-game cameo with Hibs being a prime example, but individuals are more often dragged down to the collective's level.
Tailing off from the season prior is something that could be accused of several members of the squad: Paul Hanlon, Josh Doig, Joe Newell, Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet. Yet all of those look set to remain. So what did Paul McGinn do to deserve getting chased out the door? Especially when it had just been announced twenty days prior he’d activated a new one-year extension to his contract.
The answer is in the detail. From the signings made by Hibs so far this summer it’s clear Johnson wants a team which is powerful and athletic all over the park. He wants to play fast-tempo, attacking football and seeks players to fit his vision. McGinn, as a player, relies more on his anticipation and decision-making. “Powerful” and “athletic” are two words which, in a football context, don’t apply to him quite as much.
It’s often underestimated by onlookers, whether they be fans or pundits, that for a footballer to succeed in a team the group strategy has to suit their individual strengths. Johnson didn’t see McGinn fitting into his style and acted accordingly.
In fairness, the player has landed on his feet, moving to a side which finished three places ahead of Hibs in the top flight and will compete in European football next month.
Whether there will be any regret will depend on Johnson’s impact. If he’s another managerial mistake who lasts half a season before being booted then maybe McGinn should have stayed. But, in such a scenario, there will be far bigger problems for the support to worry about than the fortunes of a veteran Motherwell defender.