John McGinn on where current Hibs cup finalists differ to 2016 team as he calls on brother Paul to perform Hampden stepovers
Crammed into the myriad memories of that Scottish Cup win on May 21, 2016, thousands and thousands of fans provide an exuberant and emotional backdrop.
At Hampden, when the final whistle sounded and a green and white wave of supporters washed from the stands onto the pitch, then on the walls, the lampposts and streets of Leith as the open top bus parade reinforced just how momentous the achievement was, it was the symbiotic nature of the celebrations that heightened the euphoria.
John McGinn will never forget those scenes and while he knows that ongoing Covid restrictions mean there will be more people wheeling trolleys around the nearby Asda than cheering on his brother Paul and the latest Hibs side seeking silverware when they turn out at the national stadium on Saturday, he believes the sensation of seeing their personal cup dream become a reality will be just as unforgettable.
“It was gut-wrenching watching the semi-final and now the final and there are no fans.
“I hope St Johnstone aren’t celebrating but if they were to win it can you imagine how their fans feel after a double win and there was no-one there to see it? It is a complete gutter but it is something we need to deal with.
“For Paul I’m just desperate for him to experience what I experienced, although I know it’s going to be slightly different.”
Players have come to accept empty stadia, but, in their fourth Hampden visit in a historic season, Hibs will struggle to accept leaving empty-handed.
Just as there were five years ago, a largely positive season has included the occasional set-back but, having wrapped up their best league campaign in 16 years, those earlier disappointments have served to incentivise an Easter Road side that is hungry for even more success.
“It brings back memories from those years ago but they played a lot better than we did in the semi-final against Dundee United,” said this year’s William Hill Scottish Football Writers' Association International Player of the Year, whose side had to rely on a penalty-shoot out to reach the final.
“They’ve been exceptional all season – to finish third is an incredible achievement. They went up to Aberdeen last week, I watched it, and they Aberdeened Aberdeen.
“It was the same way they’ve churned out results for years, the way Derek McInnes had them playing. Hibs played exactly that way, they were extremely streetwise and there was no way they were ever conceding with big Daz [fellow 2016 winner Darren McGregor] at the back.
“There are bits of the Hibs team I would have loved to have put in my Hibs team. We were maybe a bit more exciting and had a bit more flair but we didn’t get the job done the way they do. It would be a crime for them not to have a trophy to show for it.
“Hopefully then they can build on it. The problem with Hibs is that they get a wee bit of success and they think everything is alright but now it is time to build on it and try and challenge Celtic and Rangers. Why not? That’s the natural progression.”
Given how tight the matches have proved between Hibs and St Johnstone this season, securing the cup win won’t be easy, though, and the man who captained Aston Villa on Sunday says he expects to be watching at least some of the final from behind his sofa.
But that is just because he wants the very best for his big brother, who nabbed a double to earn a point when the teams faced up earlier this term, and to see him prove to himself that he deserves to be playing at that level.
“Paul makes me extremely proud. When he signed for Hibs, underwhelming would be an understatement to describe the reaction from the supporters so it’s just nice to be sitting here knowing how big a part he is of that squad.”
Adamant that the 30-year-old, who was called up to Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad earlier this season, is now playing the best football of his career, his wee brother reveals just how hard he worked hard to reap those rewards.
“So many people have told him he’s not good enough or he can’t step up a level,” said the Premier League star. “He’s not a badge kisser, he’s not for show, he’s just a brilliant teammate. His attitude boots me and [eldest sibling] Stephen out the park. If we try and run with him in the summer we can’t keep up with him. He’s an amazing athlete.
“When he was younger, playing right-back for Queen’s Park when Andy Robertson was left-back, you’d never expect the two of them to have the journeys they have. Ok, Paul’s doesn’t quite match a Champions League winner’s but it still makes me proud because he could quite easily have chucked it.”
With brains in his head as well as his feet, the middle McGinn has a 2:1 in economics and finance from Strathclyde University, which offered him alternatives to football.
“He could quite easily have thought he’d got his degree, he could work outside of football but he chose to keep grafting at it, do the postman’s run on the Saturday morning before Queen’s Park and Dumbarton.
“I’d have never done that but now he’s taken his game to that level where people will start looking at him, thinking he can play, and Hibs are lucky to have him. Thankfully the supporters realise that.
“But I still don’t think he believes in himself as much as he could. He’s spoken before about it not being in his nature and teaching him that is pretty much impossible – although I am trying! Hopefully he can start showing that arrogance with a wee stepover at the weekend.”