John McGinn made himself a promise as he stood on the turf at Hampden, a League Cup winner at the age of just 18 – “I want more days like this.”
But little did he think he would be back barely three years later with a chance to do exactly that, determined the 30,000 strong green-and-white army which will descend on Glasgow on Sunday won’t be heading home disappointed after watching him and his team-mates take on their fourth successive Premiership team in the competition, Ross County.
Incredibly, McGinn was playing only his 20th match for St Mirren as they shocked favourites Hearts after recovering from the loss of a goal after just ten minutes to lift their first major trophy since winning the Scottish Cup in 1987.
And, like today’s Hibs side, their road to Hampden wasn’t the easiest, Saints defeating Aberdeen at Pittodrie on penalties after a last-minute goal by Josh Magennis had denied them outright victory over the Dons before Danny Lennon’s players shocked Celtic in the semi-final to set up that showdown with the Jambos.
As he looked ahead to Sunday’s match, McGinn recalled: “It was one of my first games for St Mirren so I was a bit surprised to be selected but delighted to be given the chance to play in a cup final and to win it at 18 was a dream.”
McGinn had made his debut only months earlier, a late substitute as the Buddies were crushed 5-0 at home by Celtic, not, he admits, the best of presents although he insisted: “It was 4-0 when I came on so it wasn’t too bad and on the plus side it was my first taste of Premiership football.”
Unsurprisingly McGinn didn’t feature again for a month – during which Aberdeen were beaten – but injuries presented him with another opportunity, one which he grasped with both hands. He said: “I was in the stand for the quarter-final at Pittodrie but it was mad to think I’d be involved in the semi-final.
“But there were a couple of injuries, I got back into the team and stayed there. No-one gave us a chance against Celtic in the semi-final because of our previous results against them. But on the day we were at our best and Celtic weren’t. That’s what you need, in a cup game anything can happen.
“In the final itself Hearts were the favourites but we’d beaten them earlier in the season and again just a few weeks before playing at Hampden. Hearts that season were perhaps not as strong as they are currently. We knew they’d have a big travelling support which would be to their advantage but we also knew we could use it to our own ends by getting them nervous.
“We managed to do that after the equaliser, they couldn’t live with us and we deserved to win.”
McGinn, though, had to endure a nervous final few minutes after being replaced by Graham Carey, Saints seemingly unassailable lead gained thanks to goals from Esmael Goncalves, Steven Thompson and Conor Newton suddenly looking precarious as Ryan Stevenson scored his second goal for Hearts five minutes from time.
He said: “My immediate thoughts at that time were I want more days like this. It made me hungry to play in more finals, to win more medals and thankfully this year it has come about and I want to make the most of it, to enjoy it.
“The final in 2013 passed me by in a bit of a blur if I am honest. The likes of Jim Goodwin, Steven Thompson, Gary Teale and David van Zanten were brilliant with me on the bus to Hampden. I’d spent the previous night at home, nervous but excited and didn’t get much sleep but I didn’t learn until that morning I’d be playing.
“Those guys put an arm round me and simply told me that whatever I did to try and do it well. It was incredible making the journey to Hampden. We had a police escort and you could see the fans in the streets around the ground making their way to the game. It was great to be involved in.
“The nerves are there but once you step on the pitch they go and you get on with your job.
“I feel I am that bit better prepared this time, perhaps I can start the game better.”
However, just as the Buddies used Hearts massive support to their advantage that day, McGinn is aware Ross County, who’s fans are likely to be outnumbered by at least four to one, may attempt to use the same tactics.
The Scotland Under-21 captain said: “Every player in the country wants to play in a national final so for us to get that chance is something we don’t want to pass up. We want to show why we deserve to be there and win it.
“We’ll have something like 30,000 fans there and I suppose it can work the other way. But I believe we can use the sort of backing they are going to give us again. It’s amazing to think there will be so many coming through and we don’t want them going away disappointed. We want them to have a day to remember for all of us.”
And one thing McGinn, scorer of the match-winning goal against St Johnstone in the semi-final at Tynecastle, admits he’ll love to hear is a mass chorus belting out the Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith, the club’s unofficial anthem.
He said: “I remember watching the scenes after the 2007 final when Hibs beat Kilmarnock, it was a brilliant occasion. We had a wee taste after our derby win over Hearts in the Scottish Cup so hopefully we’ll be hearing it again on Sunday.”