Why Hibs defender Paul McGinn was the right man at the right time for Scotland
There was a somewhat predictable response from the Twitterati when the announcement from the Scotland national team account flashed up on Monday morning announcing the addition of Hibs right-back Paul McGinn after a trio of players pulled out.
“Why do I get the feeling that Steve Clarke is deliberately trying to wind us up?” asked one supporter. The Scotland boss later explained that while the Easter Road vice-captain hadn’t necessarily been his first choice, he had been the first to answer the call.
"Paul is not the first player we've tried to call up over the course of the camp," Clarke said.
"We've tried others but Paul is the first we've managed to get in and we're grateful for that. He had to jump through hoops for testing late last night and he's good back-up for the team.”
Mr Reliable, as he has been for so much of his career at Hibs and indeed prior, stepping in at the last minute to save the day – sort of.
The sensible option
Stephen O’Donnell was a cert to start in the right wing-back role with McGinn providing back-up from the bench. The Motherwell man ran himself into the ground for 75 minutes with McGinn coming on for the final 15 to help see the game out.
Clarke had made no secret of his desire to bring in a player with whom he had worked previously. McGinn was called up in October last year but remained an unused substitute in the Nations League matches against Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
He knows the set-up, he knows the players, he knows Clarke’s system, and he knows what’s expected. A safe pair of hands.
He has played in cup finals, in Europe, and in Edinburgh derbies. He is no stranger to pressure. A cool head at the back; calm and collected. Ideal for a must-win, or at least a must-not-lose game against Austria in Vienna.
McGinn’s laughing emoji response to one social media comment mocking his call-up – “Anybody get someone for football tomorrow at quarter to eight? Aye, my brother says he’ll play” – has so far garnered more than 10,000 likes on the social media platform and encapsulates his approach to the game. Head down, get on with it, illegitimi non carborundum.
Improving at Hibs
There was a lukewarm response to the player's arrival at Hibs in the January of 2019; the inevitable jokes about signing a McGinn and hoping for the best (cf. Stephen McGinn last summer) and yet he has become a mainstay of Jack Ross’ squad.
Following David Gray as first-choice right-back can’t have been a particularly straightforward task but McGinn has made the role his own and links up so well with Martin Boyle on the right flank. He’s also played in similar formations at club level to the one preferred by Clarke and, perhaps crucially, can play more than one role.
That he was appointed vice-captain ahead of the 2021/22 campaign shows how highly he is respected by both the management and his peers at Easter Road.
True, he has made errors in matches. He has conceded penalties, or let crosses come in which lead to goals. But the frequency with which he blocks crosses or puts in timely challenges to break down an attack far outnumber any mistakes and as always if he didn’t make those mistakes, he wouldn’t be at Hibs.
Simply put he is reliable, consistent, and exactly the sort of man you’d want on your team whether it was five-a-sides, sevens, or an eleven-a-side game.
McGinn is not flashy, nor does he enjoy the same social media notoriety as his younger sibling who plays the loveable clown to such an extent that he has his own dedicated “No Context McGinn” account.
But he played a key role in Hibs’ achieving their first third-place finish in 16 years last term and after a bit of a shaky start to this season, looked back to his best in the 2-0 win against Livingston, keeping a clean sheet and setting up Kevin Nisbet’s opener.
That he is the sixth Hibs player since May 2018 to win a first Scotland senior cap and now one of nine full internationalists in green and white suggests not only that the coaching staff are doing something right at the Hibernian Training Centre but also that the club can be relied upon to provide players capable of performing on the international stage.
‘A manager’s dream’
Like Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson before him, McGinn has plugged away for years putting in the hard graft and has finally earned international recognition in the latter stages of his career.
Not long after his arrival at Easter Road, Ross said of McGinn: “He is just consistently so good, and playing in different positions as well; a manager’s dream.
“I’ve known him a long time because he played under me when I was assistant manager at Dumbarton and he was a good right-back at that level at the time. His career
has obviously progressed from there.”
That was February 2020. Eighteen months on, the versatile defender has continued to evolve.
Despite winning his first cap and contributing to an important victory, it is uncertain if he will be named in the squad for next month’s internationals. Perhaps he deserves to be. His experience and calmness could be crucial as Scotland face Israel for the 24866th time since 2019 and the Faroe Islands and Moldova away.
Successful football teams aren’t always about taking the “best” players, throwing them together, and hoping it works. The Scottish whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
McGinn might not have been the best player for the role. But this time, at least, he was the right one.