John McGinn has been “blown away” by the magnitude of the Edinburgh derby since playing in it for the first time almost two years ago.
The midfielder has faced Hearts five times as a Hibs player in that period and is yet to experience defeat. The 23-year-old, a boyhood Celtic fan from Clydebank, has been taken aback by the level of intensity and atmosphere surrounding the fixture, and is relishing his latest taste of it at Tynecastle this evening.
“It’s bigger than I thought it was,” said McGinn. “Being from the west, it’s made out to be nowhere near the size of the Old Firm derby. When I was growing up I only experienced going to Celtic/Rangers games. But the experiences I have had (of the Edinburgh derby), I have been very lucky in that I haven’t lost one yet. It has been great. The atmosphere has been electric and that’s what you thrive on as a player. The wall of noise you hear when you walk out the tunnel – it blows you away.
“When you drive past the pub and all the Hibs fans are out steaming already and you think: ‘It’s 10am, calm it!’ It’s amazing and you want to just skip the handshakes and get going. The atmosphere is different class. They’re brilliant games. You want to play in the big games, that’s why I came to a club like Hibs – getting back into the top flight and playing in sell-out games.”
Hibs are unbeaten in their last eight Edinburgh derbies and are five points above fifth-place Hearts ahead of tonight’s match. However, McGinn is adamant his team won’t be underestimating a side who are undefeated in their past seven games and haven’t conceded a goal in their last four.
The midfielder is also aware that the Easter Road side haven’t won on their last six trips to Tynecastle – a run stretching back to May 2013, when Ross Caldwell’s late strike secured a 2-1 victory.
“For the past couple of years, Hearts probably haven’t been at their best but we’re aware now that they’re starting to pick up form and show they’re a good team,” said McGinn. “I know we have an unbeaten run against them but I don’t think we have won at Tynecastle for a while. Since I have been here it has been draws. That’s something I would like to put right.
“At the same time, we know how much the other side of the city has been hurting over the past nine games. They’ll want to put that right but we want to keep it going. We’re not taking them for granted, we know how good a squad they have and how well they are doing. We’re going to have to be on our toes and at our best if we want to get a result.”
McGinn pinpoints his first Edinburgh derby as his best. Although it didn’t result in victory, the Scotland midfielder will never forget the euphoric scenes in front of the Roseburn Stand after Hibs pair Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon scored in the last ten minutes to scramble a 2-2 draw and a replay during their famous run to Scottish Cup glory in 2016.
“Paul Hanlon’s goal at Tynie that made it 2-2,” said McGinn, when asked for his Edinburgh derby highlight. “I remember hitting the corner that day and my set-pieces had been inconsistent so I knew that one had to be right. Thankfully we scored from it.
“That turned things around for us in the derbies and it showed we were a team who would no longer be bullied or give up. We were not going to be messed about and ever since then we have had that wee bit of and edge in the derbies and I am sure Hearts will want to put that right. It’s the closest I have felt to losing a derby but the celebrations were different class.”
McGinn is braced for his usual dose of abuse from the Hearts supporters in what will be the first derby at Tynecastle since the new main stand was erected. “Going to places like Tynecastle, where you’re so close to the crowd, you get reminded how ugly you are and stuff like that!” he laughed. “I remember when I was at St Mirren someone called me the ugliest thing they had seen at Tynecastle, and two minutes later I scored – it was brilliant. I just laugh it off – I agree with them most of the time!
“You get a lot of banter and certainly a lot of the boys I know thrive on it – they enjoy it. That’s why there’s always a scramble for tickets. You’ve got a huge chance to show what you can do on a huge platform.
“I’m looking forward to experiencing the new stand. I’m sure the Hearts boys will want to get the better of me and I’ll be trying to do the same to them. We will mix it up if we have to as it will not be a passing game and I am sure it will be played at a high tempo with lots of tackles flying around. I have big Marvin (Bartley) to help me on that front as I like to try and play football but if the tackles do come flying in then I will be more than happy to get involved.”
As McGinn’s stock soars, he is finding that he is becoming more of a marked man. “There has been a lot of pressure on me in recent weeks when I have received the ball,” he said. “A lot of teams have noticed what I do, so it is up to myself to adapt to that.
“That is what all the top players do and if you want to be the best you know you are going to get marked. That caught me off guard the past few games but I am aware that it is going to happen now.
“I have worked on it with the coaching staff here. It is brilliant for me and I take it is a compliment, but, at the same time, no matter who you come up against, you need to prove that you are a good player and in recent weeks I have not done that.
“You have to prepare for it and I will adapt. I need to be aware of who my marker is. If someone is going to spend a whole game marking you, then there may be games when I will have to sacrifice myself for the team and take them away and create space for a team-mate.
“We have all the video analysis to show me that and it is a great learning tool.”