Darren McGregor hasn’t given up hope of earning Scotland recognition in the future even though the in-form Hibs defender has been overlooked for Gordon Strachan’s latest squad.
As arguably the best-performing Scottish centre-back on the domestic scene this season, the 31-year-old had been touted as a contender for a maiden call-up this month. Last week, his former manager Danny Lennon told the Evening News that his old protégé would take any prospective call-up to the national team in his stride after emerging into the full-time ranks as a 25-year-old and subsequently flourishing with St Mirren, Rangers and Hibs.
However, Strachan instead opted for the English Championship quartet of Christophe Berra, Charlie Mulgrew, Russell Martin and Grant Hanley when he named his squad on Monday for the upcoming friendly against Canada and the World Cup qualifier against Slovenia. McGregor was philosophical about his omission and recognises that the manager would have had trouble justifying the selection of a player from Scotland’s second tier ahead of anyone operating in England’s equivalent division.
“To be honest, it was neither here nor there for me,” he said. “The guys that are in there have obviously played at a really good level. The one thing that probably counts against us [Hibs players] is the level we’re playing at and I fully understand that. It would have been the icing on the cake for me but if we’re in the Prem doing well next season, there might be a chance. John McGinn’s in it, so at least there’s one Hibee there!”
As a result of McGinn’s inclusion, the midfielder is likely to miss next Saturday’s clash with second-placed Falkirk at Easter Road. McGregor is confident Hibs will get by in the absence of their midfield driving force, but admits his former St Mirren team-mate is virtually irreplaceable in terms of what he brings to his team.
“We’re lucky with regard to the players we’ve got at our disposal – Dylan McGeouch could come in and play McGinn’s role, so could Fraser Fyvie,” said McGregor. “But for me, you’ll never be able to truly replace John McGinn because he’s an exceptional talent. To replace a guy like that, you’d need to spend thousands and thousands of pounds a week. We’re just lucky to have him.”
McGinn is contracted to Hibs until 2019 and, with his stock progressively rising, the 22-year-old is sure to be the subject of offers this summer. Sunderland manager David Moyes was at Hibs’ match against Dundee United last week, and McGregor has told Hibs to savour their future “superstar” for what remains of his Easter Road career.
“You need to just enjoy his talent while he’s here,” he said. “I’ve supported Hibs and seen the likes of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Fletcher come through and then move on. Although Hibs are a big club, you know that you can’t always hold on to your best players forever. Sometimes you just have to look back on it and say ‘well he’s given us a few good years and we’re going to potentially make a lot of money off him’.
“I’m sure whatever he goes on to do, he’ll look back and thank Hibs for maturing him. I was at St Mirren with John so I saw him as a 16-year-old coming through. He had all the attributes he has now but he’s just refined them and become better all the time. He’s like a wine, getting better with age, so who knows how good he’s going to be in his mid-to-late 20s. He’ll be a superstar.”
McGregor believes his team-mate is equipped to go to the upper echelons of English football and flourish when he eventually departs Hibs.
“The one thing that counts against a lot of Scottish boys when they go down south is the lack of physicality and presence within a game, but John not’s going to have that problem,” said McGregor. “In terms of his physicality, his mindset and his approach to the game, he ticks all the boxes. Some guys have talent but don’t have the work ethic and some guys have a wee bit of both but John has all the attributes. He’s a great guy, really grounded. That’s obviously been instilled by his parents. They’re really nice people as well – he comes from good stock. With his attitude and application, he’ll only go one way – and that’s up.”