John McGinn swapping one big match for another this weekend
John McGinn will be swapping one big match on Saturday for another.
Axed from Gordon Strachan’s squad for the World Cup showdown with England, the Hibs midfielder won’t be at Hampden but joining many of his Easter Road team-mates at skipper David Gray’s wedding.
The 22-year-old had been aware for some time that the two would clash, originally intending to dash from the national stadium to the ceremony on the outskirts of Edinburgh after the match.
But now he intends to enjoy the entire day as Gray, scorer of that dramatic Scottish Cup-winning goal in May of last year, ties the knot with fiancée Hayley.
McGinn said: “Obviously, I’m a bit disappointed to have been cut from the squad but like everyone in the country I’ll be hoping for a positive result.
“Dave had mentioned in March that his wedding was the day of the Scotland v England match so I was planning to go after the game.
“Now, though, I can go for the full day and I’m looking forward to it.
“A few of the boys will be going. We have a great team spirit. We’re a pretty tight-knit group so I’m sure the lads who aren’t on holiday will be there.
“Dave has been brilliant since I joined the club. He’s a good friend and gave me the biggest day of my life so it will be nice to go and be involved in one of the biggest days of his.”
McGinn had been keeping himself in shape for the Auld Enemy despite Hibs’ season having finished on the first weekend in May as Neil Lennon’s players lifted the Championship trophy and began to look ahead to a return to the Premiership.
But all his good work was in vain as Strachan broke the news to him that he was no longer required.
He said: “I’d been going down to East Mains to keep myself ticking over and all credit to the staff there for taking time out to do that for me. Liam Fontaine and Callum Crane, who are coming back from injury, were also there but it was a bit lonely at times, doing a lot of running. But I was still in good nick.
“I’d been made aware when the original squad was named that it was going to be cut but even so it was an honour to again be involved, at least initially. That’s football, sometimes things don’t work out the way you’d want. Gordon Strachan was great. He spoke to me to let me know and to tell me that my international career is far from over.”
McGinn knew he was up against some tough opposition, midfield being the one area in which Strachan perhaps enjoys an abundance of talent, ten such players in his slimmer looking squad including the likes of Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Darren Fletcher, James McArthur, James Morrison and Robert Snodgrass.
McGinn said: “I’m aware there are such good midfielders in the squad – and there are others who didn’t even make it so I’m grateful that at least I did so. To me, every single player we have in that area is top class.”
McGinn sat in the stand at Wembley as Gareth Southgate’s England defeated Scotland 3-0 in November, the Hibs star dashing back to the Capital the next morning to face Falkirk in a crunch Championship match.
And, having watched Saturday’s opponents at first hand he fully appreciates the task facing Strachan’s side as they bid to keep their qualifying campaign afloat, Chris Martin’s late winner against Slovenia last time out ensuring that it did so. The former St Mirren player said: “With the players they have it’s a big ask. We saw from the game at Wembley they are a strong squad but that win against Slovenia a couple of months ago will have given the boys a big boost.
“I honestly don’t think there’s anything to be scared of. It’s at Hampden, there will be a big crowd and anything can happen in a one-off match.
“I’m confident the boys can get a result. We have enough quality and we just need to stay positive and do our best.”
And McGinn agrees with Hearts defender Christophe Berra that while England, top of Group F having not lost a goal far less a game, look formidable, that very record means the pressure is on them.
He said: “Christophe is right. We are the underdogs, England haven’t lost a game in the campaign so they know in a match like this they have to perform or they’ll be criticised.
“They are under pressure to get a result in a hostile environment so we have to try to capitalise on that and let our quality shine through.”
While he won’t be there in person, McGinn admitted his mind is likely to drift to events at Hampden and conceded that he might not be the only wedding guest who’ll try to sneak a look at a television to see how the game is going.
He said: “It’s a massive, massive occasion. Everyone knows how big the game is. Everyone wants to beat England and I’m no different.”
Although he confesses to having been “gutted” at missing out, McGinn revealed his unexpected break has allowed him to recharge his batteries as he looks ahead to the new season.
He said: “I was able to get away for a week’s holiday, a really quiet one away from anything remotely football orientated.
“From a personal point of view, it’s been great to get that wee rest that I didn’t get last summer with the Scottish Cup final, the Scotland squad in the friendlies against Italy and France and then the Europa League games against Brondby.
“I didn’t get much time off so by comparison I’ve had an extended break, I’m feeling good and hopefully I can use that to my advantage this season.”
After a three-year absence, McGinn admitted each and every one of Lennon’s players was looking forward to the challenge of the Premiership and, while agreeing there will be some tough examinations over the course of the new season, he believes the momentum and confidence built by that historic Scottish Cup triumph followed by the Championship title will stand Hibs in good stead.
He said: “I think you just need to come along to Easter Road on a Saturday and experience the feelgood factor there is around the place. The players get what it means to play for this club, we are all good friends and there’s a great spirit in the dressing-room.
“A massive number of season tickets are being sold so there’s also plenty of optimism among the fans as well.
“We’ve kept the core of the squad which won the cup and the league and having that continuity is massive.
“I think when there’s chopping and changing in the squad you perhaps lose something and that’s maybe what happened in the past a bit.”