He couldn’t be there in person, but John McGinn was certainly at Easter Road in spirit as his Hibs team-mates took another huge step towards the Championship title.
Absent on international duty as Scotland prepared for the following day’s World Cup qualifying match against Slovenia, McGinn tuned into the Capital club’s crunch clash with title rivals Falkirk last Saturday on Hibs TV.
And the midfielder admitted he almost screamed the place down as he watched James Keatings claim a stunning winner deep into added-on time to clinch the 2-1 win which pushed Neil Lennon’s side ten points clear at the top of the table.
He may have been some 60 miles away at Scotland’s plush Mar Hall Hotel, but 22-year-old McGinn revealed he joined in the celebrations as if he was out there with the rest of the boys on the pitch.
“I was running about daft in my room,” he disclosed. “My reaction was basically the same as the boys on the pitch.
“I got the game on the iPad in my room and I think the entire hotel heard my celebrations when Keatsy unleashed that goal. I was in the room on my own – I don’t know where the rest of the boys were – but I was as nervous as anything as it’s much harder watching these games.
“But it was a great win against a tough opponent. I was delighted.”
McGinn was forced to watch on again the next night, an unused substitute as Gordon Strachan’s players kept Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s finals in Russia alive with a late goal – although not quite as late as Keatings’ strike – from hitman Chris Martin.
While disappointed not to be involved in the action, McGinn insisted the experience will stand him and Hibs in good stead, saying: “The whole weekend was strange but the important thing was Hibs managed to get another three points, and so did Scotland.”
After winning his third cap in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Canada at Easter Road last Wednesday, a cameo appearance which saw him play only the final 14 minutes, there were some who half-expected Strachan to release McGinn back to his club given the importance of Hibs’ match with Falkirk.
Recalling how he’d dashed from Wembley to Edinburgh earlier in the season to face the Bairns after watching Scotland lose their previous World Cup qualifying match, McGinn said: “I wasn’t sure how to approach it so I just kept my head down, kept training and assumed I would be part of it on Sunday.
“It was a good thing I was still with the squad. I think that shows how highly the coaching staff think of me and I was close to being involved.
“It was great to be with the group ahead of another massive match. It was a huge result as was the Hibs one on Saturday so, all in all, it couldn’t have gone much better than two wins.
“On a personal level, it is always a great experience. You improve and learn new things. You are around top players and top-class coaches and you always come back feeling good and having got better.
“There are guys there who have played at the very top level and you just try to soak up everything, to learn and use it to be the best of your abilities. I think it benefits everyone if I am improving. Now I am back, feeling fresh and ready for tonight’s match with Morton.”
Hibs were unable to seek a postponement of their match with Falkirk despite the absence of McGinn and goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, who’d played for Israel against Spain on the Friday night, but both have reported back to Easter Road unscathed and go straight back into Lennon’s squad tonight.
But, insisted the former St Mirren youngster, that’s a position Hibs can avoid in future by ensuring a return to the Premiership where there are no fixtures to clash with international dates.
While admitting Hibs are almost there, McGinn was adamant no-one at Easter Road is taking anything for granted. He said: “There have been a few times that people have said it was all over and we got complacent.
“That can’t happen this time. We know how important it is for this cub to go back up and, over the course of the season, we have been the best team. We have only lost two or three games so we deserve to be where we are.
“Now, though, it is up to us to prove that in the final seven games of the season. We are fully aware that the job is nowhere near done and we all realise how big tonight’s game is. “Morton, along with Falkirk, are our nearest challengers and this is the chance to make the gap even bigger. We don’t want to give the teams chasing us any hope. It is in our hands and, if we play as we did on Saturday, then hopefully that will be good enough to get us another three points.”
While Hibs fans have already set about calculating exactly when they believe the title can finally be clinched, McGinn revealed he’d decided against doing so for fear of jinxing his side although he did concede: “Win tonight and we are in a great position.”
And with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen looming for the holders, McGinn agreed Lennon’s players are looking forward to an exciting end to the season.
He said: “It’s going to be a cracking end to the season – that’s what the manager keeps drilling into us. You want to be challenging for titles and in semi-finals and finals. Everyone is excited by that.”
While sharing McGinn’s opinion that a win tonight will make it very difficult for any team to catch Hibs, Lennon warned there were plenty of potential pitfalls even as games begin to run out.
He said: “The Championship has become very competitive. St Mirren are bottom of the league and they have 27 points. Last season, Alloa got put down with 21 points. The gap has significantly closed.
“All the teams are playing for something whether that’s promotion, getting into the play-offs or avoiding the relegation play-off or going down automatically. Eight or nine teams still have a lot to play for even at this stage of the season. It is very competitive.”
Lennon confirmed that midfielder Andrew Shinnie will miss tonight’s match having sustained a shoulder injury against Falkirk although a scan has shown it isn’t dislocated while skipper David Gray will be sidelined again with a hamstring problem. But Lennon added: “We hope both will be fit for the weekend and Dunfermline.”