John McGinn believes Alex McLeish will have no trouble finding players willing to sacrifice a chunk of their summer holidays for the chance to be part of Scotland’s controversial end of season tour to Peru and Mexico.
The decision to play those countries, who are preparing for the World Cup finals in Russia, was criticised in some quarters as asking too much of players at the end of a long season considering the distances to be travelled.
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers was particularly concerned given his players regularly make up a significant number of the squad. Although skipper Scott Brown has announced his international retirement, the likes of Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths were all named for Scotland’s last outing against the Netherlands in Aberdeen.
Given the brevity of the close season and Celtic’s likely quick turnaround for Champions League qualifying matches, it is expected that many of them – and possibly others from elsewhere – will be rested, opening the door for others to further their claim for a call up.
McLeish was at Easter Road on Friday night to watch his former club enjoy a 2-0 victory over Capital rivals Hearts as he began a weekend of taking in games before announcing his first squad today for this month’s “international challenge matches” against Costa Rica and Hungary.
But McGinn, who already has five Scotland caps, believes McLeish will also have an eye on the summer and making longer-term plans by identifying possible candidates such as, according to the 23-year-old Hibs midfielder, his team-mates Paul Hanlon, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan who did their chances no harm with their performances against Hearts.
After watching goals from Allan and striker Jamie Maclaren open up a gap of 12 points on the Tynecastle outfit, Neil Lennon waxed lyrical about his players, describing Allan’s opener as “exquisite,” and the performances of McGeouch and McGinn as “sublime” and “awesome” respectively, with Hanlon, an unused substitute against the Dutch at Pittodrie, hailed as “a stalwart” figure.
And all, according to McGinn, would jump if McLeish were to come calling at any time. He said: “If you ask any player in our dressing-room there would be no complaints about where we might be flying to, we want to play for our country and pull on that jersey.
“If there are people pulling out we will be waiting here to be called upon, if he wants us we will be ready.”
McGinn refused to take his own inclusion in today’s announcement for granted, insisting: “For every Scottish player and whoever qualifies to play for Scotland, it’s important to put in the performances and, when a squad is coming up, to stay on your toes and prove you deserve to be there.
“You have to keep doing what you are doing to try and impress the manager, that’s the incentive for everyone. If you are not involved this time then you have to keep plugging away and hope to get that call in future.”
Lennon’s players have caught the eye in recent weeks, beating Rangers, Aberdeen and now Hearts added to a creditable point from their away game with Kilmarnock given Steve Clarke’s team’s current form. Hibs sit fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership, just two points behind Aberdeen.
For McGinn, however, it’s the forthcoming games before the split, all against teams in the bottom half of the table, which will be every bit as important as he and his team-mates chase down a place in the Europa League.
To that end, as enjoyable as the win over Hearts was, McGinn says all eyes are on what lies ahead, not behind.
“Our derby record at home is pretty good although this one was a bit different in that we didn’t score early. We had to be patient, Hearts were sturdy and made it hard for us in the first half but in the end our class came through and we thoroughly deserved the victory.
“It was exactly like the Aberdeen game a few weeks ago, we knew we were tiring them out and that spaces were going to open up and thankfully we managed to capitalise on them.
“We have a good balance in the team now, everyone knows their role and we know if we keep shifting the ball then things are going to open up for us.”
The build-up to the latest derby had of course been overshadowed by talk of “natural order”, the jibe made by Hearts manager Criag Levein following his team’s win at Tynecastle, riling everyone in green and white.
McGinn said: “Of course it annoys you, someone questioning your pride and the club. It’s your duty as a player to go and prove that’s not the case and I think by the time the full-time whistle came we had done that.
“I think in the last few years we have been doing that and it’s up to us to continue to change things in Edinburgh. I think the fans are really enjoying coming to watch us play, but the feeling is mutual. We are loving playing our football here, the atmosphere is unbelievable and as players that’s what you want.”
Lennon dismissed Hearts as “irrelevant” in the wake of Friday night’s triumph – Hibs’ fifth home win over Hearts making it just one loss in 11 agains their rivals, but McGinn was adamant that, as far as he is concerned, it’s the coming games which now take priority.
“We are trying to hang on to the coat-tails of Aberdeen and Rangers, looking up the table and being ambitious.
“We are looking at a European place, we need to get that consistency and if we keep playing the way we are then we have a good chance.
“We are on a great run but we have to stay humble and not get ahead of ourselves. We now have a run of games against teams fighting for their lives so it is important we keep our standards high.
“We need to fight the same way as they will be fighting and then hopefully our quality will come through.”