John McGinn still has stars in his eyes

John McGinn was like any other starstruck kid at Hampden, desperate to get his photograph taken with the Scotland players and to have them autograph his matchday programme.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 6:00 am
John McGinn with pupils who brought a cake from Tescos to celebrate his first call-up to Scotlands senior team.

The fact his grandfather Jack was president of the SFA did help, the Hibs midfielder with his brothers Paul and Stephen and their dad able to get up close with the likes of Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher and Stephen McManus.

But while he dreamed back then of one day perhaps pulling on a dark blue jersey, the 21-year-old never thought that he would find himself named in the same squad as one of those heroes, Scotland skipper Scott Brown.

Tomorrow, though, he’ll do exactly that when he reports for full international duty for the first time, beginning preparations for Tuesday night’s friendly against Denmark in Glasgow.

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He said: “I’m sure everyone dreams about it because it’s the pinnacle of football and, as a young Scottish boy, you want to be part of that set-up.

“Fortunately my grandfather was part of it and through him I was able to go to every game and it’s scary to think I could be playing on Tuesday.

“Because my grandfather was the president we used to get complimentary tickets so my dad, Paul, Stephen and I would go and if one of us couldn’t make it, my sister Katie would go instead.

“Sometimes the players would come in afterwards because we’d be where their families were and I was a little star-struck by the whole thing.

“Darren Fletcher, Stephen McManus and Scott Brown would be there and I was just the same as any other kid. I loved my football and I loved the Scotland players so I used to have my photograph taken with them at every game – even if it was for the seventh or eighth time.

“They would also sign my programmes for me but I won’t be letting them know about that.”

Already Scotland Under-21 captain, McGinn caught Strachan’s eye when the Scotland boss joined Ricky Sbragia’s squad for a week back in November as they prepared for a European Championship qualifying match against Ukraine, a game which ended in a 2-2 draw.

But even so, he insisted, his call-up came as a surprise. “Myself and the rest of the squad knew he was coming along to get used to us as people and to watch how we trained.

“We were all keen to impress him and, thankfully, I was able to do that. There was a buzz about the training although it was disappointing we couldn’t get the result we wanted.

“But there was a real eagerness from everyone and it was brilliant he took the time out to come along and I’m delighted to have been given this chance.”

Strachan surprised McGinn even more when, as he sat chatting with Easter Road team-mate and Hull City’s Andy Robertson, the national coach pulled up a chair to join them.

He said: “We were sitting having a coffee and Hendo and I were just looking at each other. Andy knew him from his time with the full squad so it was second nature to him.

“The manager was just chatting to us about where we lived, whether we were still living with our mums and dads and how we were getting on at our clubs. I think he did that with most of the lads.

“It was good to get to know him off the pitch and away from training before any of us made the step up.”

McGinn admitted he was looking forward to the change in environment having endured a tough few weeks with Hibs in which their Championship title hopes evaporated and they lost the League Cup final to Ross County.

Although being called into the Scotland squad showed he was “doing something right”, the former St Mirren youngster conceded: “I feel that in the last few weeks myself and a few of the other boys at Hibs haven’t ben playing as well as we can.

“That’s evident in the results but it’s good to get away from that while the lads who weren’t called up will be able to recharge their batteries.

“I’ll be hoping to learn from coming up against some top players while Liam and Jason Cummings will be playing France with the Under-21s so that should also benefit the club. These wee things all help.

“The gaffer [Alan Stubbs] said to me the other day to just forget about what’s happened and to concentrate on winning my first cap.

“It’s good for me to get away and play and it’s good for the other boys as well to get a rest because it’s been a tough few weeks.

“That’s not something we are using as an excuse, we know it’s not been good enough and when we come back we’ll be ready to go.

“We’re keen to avoid going through another spell like that again. In the first half of the season we were performing week in, week out, whether it was three games a week or just one.

“That’s something we have struggled with in the past month, but for a team to be successful, it’s something you’ve got to be able to cope with.

“That’s what the gaffer has been barking out to us, especially after Saturday’s game.

“There’s still a lot to play for, we’ve given ourselves a big of a gap now to Falkirk, but we’ve got games in hand that we can claw that back.

“The gaffer keeps reminding us that we have to look back on what we’ve done already this season. We can’t sit on it, we’ve got to use it as a motivation to push on, to go and be successful.

“We’re really disappointed that we’ve not already got a trophy in the cabinet, but we want promotion and we want the Scottish Cup as well.”

McGinn admitted this has been his busiest ever season but insisted he’s relishing the hectic programme of games with Hibs.

He said: “I’d rather be playing three games a week than training five days and playing one. I’m young and fit enough to cope.

“It’s been a bit strange playing in so many big games. No disrespect to St Mirren, but we’re playing games like the Edinburgh derby with massive crowds. It’s something that’s sort of opened my eyes to how good a club Hibs is and we are hungry to give the fans the success that they so clearly crave.”