John McGinn believes he wouldn’t be a Hibs player today if it wasn’t for Tommy Craig, the Easter Road club’s former assistant manager.
Now regarded as one of Scotland’s brightest young midfield talents, McGinn revealed how he struggled early in his career at St Mirren, unable to hold down a place in the Buddies’ Under-19 side until Craig, No.2 to John Collins in the Capital, stepped in.
The ink hardly dry on the four-year contract he has signed after Hibs agreed a six-figure fee with the Paisley outfit, McGinn said: “If it was not for Tommy Craig I would not be sitting here right now. I was really struggling at Under-19 level. I was playing left back and not getting a game.
“Tommy saw something in me, decided that wasn’t my position, shifted me into midfield and since then I have not looked back. He was a great influence on me and the St Mirren team that won the League Cup.”
At that point, Craig was assistant to ex-Saints boss Danny Lennon, who handed McGinn his debut and although he admits he’ll be forever grateful for their input and that of caretaker manager Gary Teale, the 20-year-old decided that at the end of last season it was time to move on.
He said: “It was a big decision to make. I’d been at St Mirren for 13 years. A new contract was on the table for me. Saints wanted me to stay, but I thought I needed a fresh start.
“I’d been there a long time, but sometimes in football you need something different and I felt last season my development stalled a wee bit.”
Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of interest in the Scotland Under-21 star, not only from Premiership outfits in Scotland but clubs down south and from Owen Coyle’s Houston Dynamo, McGinn actually travelling to Texas to train with the American MLS side.
However, McGinn was convinced Easter Road was the place to be after he and his parents met head coach Alan Stubbs and after chatting with his brothers Stephen – who has just signed for Wycombe – and Paul, who is at Dundee.
“I’d always planned to keep my options open,” McGinn revealed, “America was one I considered. It would have been a massive jump for me at this age and there were also another few clubs I was considering. But it had to be the right move for me.
“I came through here with my mum and dad, had a chat with the manager and a walk about the place. It just seemed right. I’m lucky enough to get good advice from my family, my mum and dad, my brothers and my grandfather [former Celtic chairman Jack McGinn] as to what the club is like so it was a no-brainer in the end.
“The manager is down to earth and ambitious like myself, so I think we can work really well together. I love my football – too much sometimes – so I managed to catch a lot of Hibs games on television last season. I liked the style of play the manager has instilled, that the boys are given a freedom to play and I’m looking forward to being given that freedom.”
Given the financial state of Scottish football, few clubs indulge themselves in six-figure transfer fees, while four year contracts aren’t particularly common either, facts of which McGinn is well aware.
But he said: “It’s a massive compliment to me, one of the main seasons I decided to join Hibs. There’s a bit of stability for me in a four-year deal, but the manager and his staff have just signed up as well so there’s no uncertainty. I’m looking forward to being here for a few years and I am sure the manager will help me develop as a player along the way.”
Admitting he’s playing “catch-up” in terms of full fitness, having had last season cut short by a freak training ground accident in which he was “speared” by a training pole thrown by Saints skipper Stephen Thompson – one he describes as a “complete accident” – McGinn also knows he faces a tough battle to force his way into Stubbs’ team.
That’s a fact reinforced daily as he makes the journey from Glasgow to East Mains, his travelling companions being fellow midfielders Scott Allan, Fraser Fyvie and Scott Martin along with striker James Keatings while, waiting at the other end are the likes of Marvin Bartley, Sam Stanton and Alex Harris.
McGinn said: “Just because I was signed for a six-figure fee doesn’t mean I’m just going to walk into the team. I need to earn my place and I will be working hard to do that.
“I’m adding to what is already a very strong, exciting midfield. When you consider the players who are already here and add in Danny Handling, who I know from Scotland Under-21s but is unfortunately out injured at the moment, the competition for places is going to be tough.
“There’s not a lot of squads in the Championship that will have the quality we have, but it’s up to each of us to make sure we earn our spot, show the quality we have to get promoted. That’s the one goal we have, to go up. It doesn’t matter how we do it, but it would be nice to win the league and I think we are capable of doing that.”
McGinn admits to having had a few first day nerves as he began life with his new club, saying: “It was a bit strange. I’m not used to being the new boy so there were a few butterflies in the stomach driving in on the first day. But we’ve got a great bunch of boys here who, along with all the staff and supporters, have made me welcome.
“I’m travelling in with James Keatings, the two Scotts and Fraser, which has been good, while I also know Jason Cummings from the Scotland Under-21s. And as I play catch-up in training I’ve been working with Dan Carmichael and Martin Boyle along with the fitness coach Craig Flannigan, so I’ve settled in pretty quickly.
“One thing I plan to do, though, is move through to Edinburgh. I’ve been used to driving ten or 15 minutes in to training in the morning, but now I’m getting up at 6.30am because of roadworks to make sure we get to training on time. That journey is already too much for me.”
McGinn reckons he’ll be ready for action soon and, he insisted, he’s relishing the challenge of winning himself a new army of supporters, while at the same time answering those who’d question why a youngster with ambition would choose a Championship side when presented with opportunities to stay in the top flight.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot last season, but at St Mirren we were losing more games than we were winning and I need to get a winning mentality and that’s something I’m aiming to achieve.
“I don’t see it as a step down at all. There’s going to be pressure because we’ll be expected to win every game this season. This is a massive club, with a massive fanbase, probably bigger than I realised, and it deserves to be in the top half of the Premiership at least.
“Through the years it’s ended up here unfortunately, but it is now up to us in the dressing-room to get us back up.”