From scoring against Ukraine to seal one of his country’s greatest victories to lining up against Luxembourg minnows CS Fola Esch. Niall McGinn could require the services of a motivational coach in the coming days.
There’s no rest for the wicked. Nor, it appears, for Northern Ireland football heroes.
McGinn might only have made three substitute appearances at Euro 2016 totalling around 40 minutes. But he might have expected some time off after nearly a month away with his country, particularly given the disappointment of Northern Ireland’s narrow last 16 defeat to Wales on Saturday.
Instead he’s been told to report back for training at Aberdeen tomorrow morning by manager Derek McInnes ahead of Thursday’s Europa League first qualifying round first leg clash with CS Fola Esch.
This won’t be before McGinn and his team-mates and manager Michael O’Neill have taken the applause of fans at the fanzone site near Titanic Quarter in Belfast later today. Their return will be wildly greeted after Northern Ireland exceeded expectations by reaching the knockout stage.
The adventure came to an end on Saturday evening in Paris, however. They were downed by one of their own. Gareth McAuley’s own goal was the difference but no-one could point the finger at the veteran defender, who scored at the right end against Ukraine, nor anyone else.
Every member of the squad played a part in the memorable story – even if unable to on the pitch.
Will Grigg’s name will be forever written large across the tournament despite being handed zero amount of time on the pitch. This curious quirk of the player constantly saluted by fans but overlooked by the management struck a cord with reporters from far and wide.
O’Neill had to deal with the latest question on the subject on Saturday evening, replying a little tersely that “I don’t pick my team on what the supporters sing at games”. Grigg, for his part, viewed his lack of action as “a little frustrating, I’m not going to lie”.
McGinn, too, would prefer to have featured more than he did. His chances were hampered by a change in formation after an injury to Chris Brunt saw the left-back miss the tournament. But he was proud to be part of the effort to reach the last 16 and be able to witness the fervour of the support.
The fans once again refused to leave a stadium in France until long after the final whistle on Saturday, despite the disappointment. Northern Ireland looked the more likely of the two teams to progress in the opening hour. But Gareth Bale finally broke free from opposition clutches to whip in a cross that McAuley, under pressure from Wales substitute Hal Robson-Kanu, diverted into his own net past Michael McGovern.
McGinn was sent on soon afterwards but Northern Ireland could not create the one opening to at least force extra-time. They had, though, created more than Wales in a first half where O’Neill’s plan to frustrate their opponents worked to perfection.
“We created the better chances so to lose in the manner we did is so disappointing,” said McGinn. “But I think when we look back on things, from qualifying to how we performed in France, we have a lot to be proud of. Getting to the last 16 was a massive achievement for us. For me to be part of that and be part of this squad is special.”
He will soon need to turn his thoughts to a slightly less appetising prospect of a Europa League qualifying tie. But McGinn is ready to do his bit – indeed, he might be better prepared than anyone after a summer where he has needed to remain in prime condition.
“I’ll be at training on Tuesday to play in this first-leg game on Thursday,” he confirmed yesterday. “I’ll stay with the Northern Ireland boys until Monday and then we’ll go our separate ways.
“But I’ll be playing with Aberdeen on Thursday.
“I’ve not sure what lies ahead after that. I’ve talked to the manager about it and I’ll probably get a break after the first leg. It’s our first European game and the manager obviously wants us to get off to a good start.
“I feel good, I feel fit so I’ll look forward to Thursday when it comes around. But I’m just still a bit gutted to be knocked out of the Euros.”
CS Fola Esch should beware of a Northern Irishman with a grievance cutting in from the wing on Thursday.