A proud evening beckons for the three young musketeers who have been at the heart of much of Hibs’ best work this season.
John McGinn, 21, Jason Cummings, 20, and Liam Henderson, 19, are thick as thieves off the pitch, regularly dining out together and bantering away on their own WhatsApp group chat. On the field, the high-energy midfield displays of McGinn and Henderson have helped pave the way for Cummings to bag himself 20 goals.
This afternoon, Cummings and Henderson will turn out in Paisley for Scotland’s Under-21s against Northern Ireland before watching their close friend make his full international debut against Denmark at Hampden a couple of hours later. McGinn’s rise from Under-21 captain and Easter Road standout to Scotland player serves as inspiration for those with similar ambitions.
“It gives you great confidence when you see a guy just a couple of years older than you at the same club getting called into the national team,” Henderson told the Evening News. “McGinn’s a brilliant player but he’s an even better person He’s the nicest, most down-to-earth guy I’ve ever played with. I like to spend a lot of my free time with him, going out for dinner and stuff like that. I’m absolutely over the moon at how well he’s down. I hope he can continue to do it.
I love playing with McGinn because he does a lot of running. We’re on the same wavelength. I know where he is and he knows where I am, and that helps a lot when you’re playing alongside him. He’s a very strong boy and he plays with his heart on his sleeve. He just needs to add a few more goals to his game, but apart from that he’s been absolutely fantastic.”
When news of McGinn’s call-up was confirmed while Hibs were in Spain ahead of the League Cup final a few weeks back, the midfielder was treated to a few choruses of “Super John McGinn”, the well-aired supporters’ song – to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achey Breaky Heart – in which he is hailed as “better than Zidane.”
“Jason’s got him saved in his phone as ‘Super John McGinn’,” said Henderson. “We give him a few renditions of the song now and again. I’ve sang it to him a few times. We were singing it when he got called up to the national team and having a bit banter with him. He takes it well. I can see why the fans love him. Even away from the pitch, he’s great with the fans. He’ll never ignore anybody – he’ll always make time to speak to people and that’s probably his main attribute. Good things happen to nice people. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
While one of the young Hibs trio is preparing to win his first full Scotland cap, another is trying to banish a mini goal drought. Cummings hasn’t scored in his last six Hibs matches, his longest run without netting since he went five without doing so just over a year ago. His well-documented open-goal miss against Raith Rovers a week past Saturday has added to the perception that the young striker is enduring a difficult time. However, Henderson, who has been rooming with Cummings while on international duty over the past week and a bit, dismisses any notion that his friend is suffering a confidence crisis.
“Misses like that happen to all strikers at some point,” said Henderson. “He’s scored 20-odd goals this season so I think it’s a bit harsh the way people have highlighted the miss. He’s still a young boy learning his trade and considering the amount of goals he’s scored, I think it’s a wee bit disrespectful the way people have jumped on the miss and started getting on his back. I said to Jason after it that I’d be more worried if he wasn’t there to miss it. He was more disappointed for the team than for himself. The boys were brilliant with him afterwards, though, and it’ll be out of his mind already.
“As a friend and a team-mate, you put your arm round him after something like that, but he’s so one-track minded that it won’t affect him going forward. He’ll take it in his stride. All he’s focused on is scoring goals. He doesn’t think about the misses too much. He’s confident and he’ll be back among the goals soon enough. He’s a top player who is destined for the top.
“He’s looking confident and sharp with the Under-21s. I’ve enjoyed sharing with him because he’s a good guy to have around the place. He’s bought me a lot of coffees, so I can’t complain. It’ll be nice if he can score against Northern Ireland and get himself going again.”
Henderson himself is enjoying the best period of his fledgling career so far. Although a form dip in the league and a League Cup final defeat by Ross County have served to take the wind out of Hibs’ sails over the past month, the Celtic youngster is adamant that his season-long loan move to Easter Road has been to his benefit.
“I’ve loved every minute of being at Hibs,” he said. “I’m 100 per cent a better player than I was last summer. The gaffer [Alan Stubbs], Taff [assistant Andy Holden] and [first-team coach] John Doolan have brung me on a lot and playing week in, week out has made a real difference. It’s given me great confidence as well.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough of the gaffer – he’s been unbelievable for me and so have the rest of the players. Kevin Thomson has been my roomie when we’ve been away and the stuff I’ve learned from him in such a short space of time has been brilliant.
“Even though he’s only 26, Paul Hanlon has bags of experience and guys like him, Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine have been brilliant for me, putting the arm around me and giving me advice. I can only thank them for helping me.
“We’ve hit a wee rough patch the last four games in the league but I’m sure we’ll get back on track. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the past month or two with all the games we’ve had and the trips away, so it’s good for us to get a wee break and then get back into it this weekend.”
Before that, Henderson must concern himself with trying to keep Scotland Under-21s’ hopes of European Championship qualification alive by defeating Northern Ireland this afternoon. A 2-0 defeat to France in Angers last week left Ricky Sbragia’s side staring at tournament elimination, although Henderson took heart from the way he acquitted himself against a side containing Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot and £40 million-rated Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte.
“I’ve really enjoyed the week so far,” said Henderson. “The France game was really tough but I really enjoyed playing in it. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves for the first hour and played some nice stuff. On another day, we could have nicked something, but their extra quality got them the two goals in the end. There were a few big, fast, strong, athletic boys in their team but they were also technically very good. They’ve all been brought up with good morals, so it was a good test for us. Rabiot was scoring for PSG against Chelsea in the Champions League and Laporte at the back is being touted for multi-million pound moves, so they’re obviously going to be a good side. They’ve also got a massive population compared to Scotland.
“It gives you a boost playing against guys like that. I’ve still got another couple of years at this level so I’m one of the young boys in the Scotland team but I felt like I was meant to be out there on the pitch. I really enjoyed it.”