John McGinn hopes to face England for the second time in his fledgling career onFriday night.
On the only previous occasion he donned his international colours against the Auld Enemy, the Hibs midfielder, then of St Mirren, was part of a Scotland Under-19 team thrashed 3-0 in a European Championship elite round qualifier in Westerlo, Belgium, three and a half years ago.
Remarkably, McGinn is the only one of the 22 players who started in May 2013 to have subsequently earned a full cap for their country. Arsenal defender Calum Chambers came off the bench for the Under-19s that day and earned a full cap under Roy Hodgson the following year, while Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who started in Westerlo, earned his maiden call-up to the England squad last month but is yet to be capped.
McGinn will be joined in the Scotland squad for the Wembley showdown by Stephen Kingsley and Jack Hamilton, who were unused substitutes in the aforementioned under-19 match. Both the Swansea City left-back and the Hearts goalkeeper are uncapped at full level, further underlining the magnitude of McGinn’s rise.
The 22-year-old takes immense pride from completing the journey through the ranks when so many of his peers on both sides have been unable to make the final jump into their respective senior squads. There is no chance of him taking his impressive ascent for granted.
“We lost 3-0 and Ricky Sbragia gave us the hairdryer after it,” McGinn says of the under-19 match against England.
“Not many boys from that game have made it to their full teams yet. At that point, I was never really a first pick for Scotland at that level. I was always floating in and out but I think that can help you because it makes you hungry. You just want to prove people wrong and, over time, people start believing in you.
“I’m obviously delighted to make my way up to the full squad but I know I need to keep performing if I’m to stay there because there are top-class players sitting at home and itching to get involved.
“I don’t take it for granted. Any time I go away, I know I need to be at the top of my game. I’ve impressed so far, but I need to keep doing it. The manager’s shown great faith in me to keep me involved, so I want to repay him.”
Even though he has been a regular presence in Gordon Strachan’s squad throughout 2016, McGinn is not viewing himself as an established internationalist. This week he saw Rangers winger Barrie McKay, who made the step up to the full squad with him earlier this year, left out of the squad for Wembley. McGinn feared he might suffer a similar fate when it emerged last week that Celtic captain Scott Brown, who plays the same position as him, had decided to come out of retirement. The Hibs player’s relief was clear when he got confirmation on Wednesday that he had made the cut.
“You know the England game’s coming up and you look to find out when the squad’s announced, and then you just wait and hope your name’s in it,” he said. “Thankfully for me, it was. I couldn’t give it the fist pump because I was on my own, but I was delighted. The midfield’s obviously been strengthened [with Brown coming out of retirement] so I didn’t know if I was going to miss out.
“All the midfielders will have been thinking the same but if he’s going to help the team and the country then I’m all for him coming back. He’s a top player. He helped me massively when I went away with the national team before and he’s been the best player in the country this season. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
McGinn views being on international duty as an opportunity to learn from more illustrious squad members such as his fellow central midfielders, Brown and Darren Fletcher.
“I call myself the sponge because I try and soak up wee bits and bobs from everyone when I’m away,” he explained. “You learn so much, even just in a couple of minutes of conversation with the likes of Scott and Darren. From my point of view, especially from Scott because he was here [at Hibs] and has experienced everything I’m going through just now. If I can do half as well as he’s done in his career, I’ll be doing well. You just try and take wee tips from these guys.”
McGinn, who is set to play for Hibs at Ayr United today, reiterated his intention to make himself available for his club’s Championship game at home to Falkirk next Saturday if he doesn’t feature prominently at Wembley the previous evening.
“It depends on how much I play, if at all on Friday,” he said. “I’ll probably come back up for the Falkirk game and see how the manager feels about me playing.
“As far as I’m aware, we’re flying back up after the game, so I’m more than happy to play for Hibs on the Saturday.”