John McGinn: Winning makes you want more
The midfielder was only 19 when he was part of the St Mirren team which upset the odds by beating Hearts to lift the League Cup three years ago, a Hampden victory which sparked wild celebrations, the Buddies players setting up camp in a local pub and, legend has it, not leaving for nearly a week.
Hardly surprising, then, that McGinn admits the day remains something of a blur although the open-top bus ride through Paisley remains vivid in his mind, scenes he’d love to repeat around the streets of Edinburgh.
McGinn, though, had little time to drink it all in, he had to report for international duty with Scotland’s Under-19 squad the following day as they prepared for a friendly against Sweden at Ayr United’s Somerset Park.
As he looked ahead to this afternoon’s Utilita Energy League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone, the Hibs midfielder, now 21, recalled: “I remember at the time a lot of the old guard were telling me that it should make me hungry to go and get more medals and it certainly has.
“I remember being on the open-top bus going through Paisley and saying ‘I want to do this again’. It was brilliant.
“Believe it or not, I was in Irvine the next day meeting up with the Scotland Under-19s. I saw the evidence of what happened after Saints had won the cup but I really don’t have as good memories as the other boys even now.
“But it shows what a lift it can give a club or a city, you can imagine scenes in Edinburgh similar to that but we are only looking at today, we can’t look too far ahead.”
McGinn also recalls the agony of those final few minutes at Hampden having been replaced by Graham Carey with Saints leading 3-1 only for Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson to net his second of the game five minutes from time.
He said: “I could hardly watch. When you are on the pitch you have a job to do, you are focused, so you do not worry what’s surrounding you. But when you are at the side it’s not so easy, you are worrying that it could be taken away from you. So I was just relieved after all the build up and we’d won.”
As such McGinn believes he is better prepared this time round, feeling more relaxed and ready to face the Saints, the third Premiership side Hibs have confronted in this season’s competition having beaten Aberdeen and Dundee United in the previous two rounds, a scenario somewhat similar to that glory run enjoyed by the Buddies who had beaten the Dons and then Celtic before taking on Hearts in the final.
The Scotland Under-21 captain said: “You have to beat the best to win a tournament. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you get in the draw, you just have to take each game as it comes and then focus on the next one.
“We took a lot of confidence from the Aberdeen game. They were on a great run of form, they were flying and at the top of the table but our game plan worked and we managed to beat them.
“But today is a semi-final, there’s a lot more at stake and anything can happen. We’d have played anyone, we have that confidence in the dressing-room but at the same time we have to be respectful to St Johnstone, they are fifth in the Premiership, they have very good players, a lot of experience and are well organised.”
Saints boss Tommy Wright has claimed Hibs will be favourites to repeat their 2007 victory over the Perth club at the same stage of the competition and at the same venue, given his players recent form.
But McGinn was adamant that’s not the case, recalling St Johnstone’s 3-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox earlier in the competition when they raced into a three-goal lead before James Tavernier claimed what proved to be a consolation goal for the current Championship leaders.
He said: “I think it’s going to be an even game and one that everyone is looking forward to. Everyone will have different opinions, they are in the higher league, we are doing well in the Championship.
“I saw their game against Rangers earlier in the season and they played very well. I think at the time Saints were written off beforehand and I think that maybe spurred them on. Perhaps Rangers were complacent that night but although we are doing well we know we can’t be complacent.
“We will respect our opponents and we know we have to play as we have been if we want to get through to the final.
“We will be very prepared, we have worked very hard all week, there will be no stone unturned and we will be ready.”
Head coach Stubbs has, of course, been at the centre of the pre-match build-up, many jumping on his observation that, along with Celtic, Hibs are the only other club in the country who can realistically target a treble, the Capital side chasing Rangers in the Championship, harbouring hopes of reaching the League Cup final later today and then returning to Tynecastle next weekend to beat arch-rivals Hearts in the Scottish Cup.
But McGinn and his team-mates remain oblivious to the debate Stubbs has sparked. He said: “I don’t think it matters to me what the manager says outside the dressing-room.
“Inside we are confident, we know what we can do, we know what he wants from us and I think that’s been shown on the pitch this season, that we are all playing for him. We have a real togetherness, everyone who works at the club. It’s a really positive place to come and play your football.”
Many eyebrows were raised when the highly-rated McGinn chose Hibs over a host of other suitors when his contract at St Mirren expired, the belief being he would head for the Premiership or the English Championship. But, he insisted, his decision to move to Easter Road has been fully vindicated.
Asked if he feels the right decision was made, he replied: “One hundred per cent. I knew when I arrived there was only one way the club was going, the moves that were getting made off the pitch. That’s what Alan Stubbs said to me when I came in and spoke to him. It was something I wanted to be involved in.
“He made it clear we were going to have a go to win trophies and be successful. That’s what every player wants. I’m delighted I cane here and I am really enjoying it.”