Darren McGregor believes Hibs’ new signing Stevie Mallan can become the “next John McGinn”, with the Scotland midfielder remaining in the sights of Celtic despite the Premiership champions having had a £1.5 million bid knocked back.
Although there has, reportedly, been no further contact between the clubs since then, most expect Celtic to return with an improved offer as they try to tempt McGinn to Parkhead.
Like everyone at Easter Road, McGregor has his fingers firmly crossed that McGinn – named man of the match in Paul Hanlon’s testimonial match against Blackburn Rovers at the weekend – remains at Hibs, but is also well aware of the situation.
However, should McGinn move on after three years in the Capital, McGregor feels Mallan, another former St Mirren youngster, can fill that void having seen the 22-year-old’s potential as a kid when he, too, was at the Paisley club.
Mallan has penned a four-year deal with Hibs after a deal was struck with English League One outfit Barnsley, where the midfielder had endured a miserable season, but McGregor sees his move to Easter Road as the chance for him to re-ignite his career in much the way Fraser Fyvie and Scott Allan did in returning to Scotland after similarly unhappy spells south of the border.
The central defender said: “Stevie was really young when I was at St Mirren, but I do remember him and Lewis Morgan as two young guys of a similar age. Although I vaguely remember him from there, I really remember playing against him for Hibs and I always saw a self-confidence there.
“He would take free-kicks, demand the ball and every pass he tried to make was forward. He is always trying to break the lines. He’ll lap it up here. No disrespect to St Mirren, but this is a bigger club with a bigger support and expectations and I think he will grow with that.”
Hibs fans got a brief glimpse of Mallan as he replaced Danny Swanson for the last half-hour on Sunday and McGregor insisted he’d shown enough to suggest he has the potential to follow the same path as McGinn in becoming a key figure in Neil Lennon’s plans and on to forcing his way into the Scotland set-up.
He said: “When he came on Stevie looked composed, good with the ball at his feet and I’m sure he will be a very good addition. He’s fit, we did a 1000 metre run and he had one of the best scores. He just needs match fitness.
“The hope is that we can turn him into the next John McGinn. That is the hope because we’re aware there is the potential that he will move on and we’ll need someone as his replacement.
“The progress John has made should be the motivation for any young player. Look at John’s story, his application and dedication. It shows that if you work hard and are persistent then you can go on to big clubs.
“It’s not done yet, but if John does go, I wish him all the best. He has given Hibs three terrific years.”
Mallan may be returning to Scotland feeling he has a point to prove but, insisted McGregor, no-one should criticise his decision to try his luck in England, saying: “If any player is given an opportunity to better themselves, then not one will say, ‘I don’t think I am good enough’.
“Everyone is always confident of going down and performing well. I don’t know about Stevie’s situation at Barnsley, but he only needs to look at the guys who have come here and done well to realise what a great platform this is and the infrastructure that is here.
“He will have the bit between his teeth and looking at Hibs as a stepping stone, as a lot of players do. If he can come here and perform well – whether for one, two, three or the four full seasons – then we will benefit as a club.
“Then there is the international potential that comes from the exposure of playing for Hibs. He can see that, after a good season, there is the potential for him to break into the Scotland squad.
“I’m sure that will be ticking away in the back of his mind. But first of all he’ll want to perform week in, week out, for Hibs. All that stuff might be a long way off, but I do truly believe we’ve got a player with real quality, a young player who is hungry, confident and ready to step up to the plate.”
With Dylan McGeouch already gone, joining Sunderland at the end of his contract, and the threatened loss of McGinn, the engine room of last season’s drive to fourth place in the table could well be missing when the new Premiership season gets under way.
McGregor, however, expressed his “full faith” in Lennon and the board to bring in fresh talent while insisting there are others ready to fill that void.
He said: “There are guys who need to step up. It’s a big season for Vykintas Slivka and Danny Swanson and there are younger guys coming through like Oli Shaw. There is real quality there.”