Graeme Shinnie is thriving in spite of his illness

Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie celebrates his winning goal against Apollon Limassol in the first leg of the Europa League tie at Pittodrie. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS
Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie celebrates his winning goal against Apollon Limassol in the first leg of the Europa League tie at Pittodrie. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS
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It is just as well Graeme Shinnie is a level-headed sort of chap. Serenaded by the Pittodrie faithful on Thursday night, he was the subject of what amounted to a paean from Derek McInnes yesterday.

Shinnie leads Aberdeen back into European action in Cyprus on Thursday but would struggle to get down the tunnel if he allowed the deserved praise of recent days to go to his head. The manager had already described Shinnie as summing up what a fans’ folk hero should be in the aftermath of last Thursday’s 2-1 win over Apollon Limassol. The love bombing from McInnes has continued ahead of this week’s second leg in Cyprus.

Shinnie has long led by example. Not just on the pitch but off it too. A sufferer of the same condition that hampered Darren Fletcher’s progress, Shinnie has had to work extra hard to be become what he is; skipper and, some would say, the heartbeat of his hometown team. Like Fletcher, he has refused to let ulcerative colitis stop him doing what he loves – and doing it well.

“He’s very aware that it’s something he needs to keep in check and he’s constantly going back to Inverness to see the specialist to make sure everything is as it should be,” explained McInnes. “But that’s probably part of why he’s the player that he is as it did threaten to stop him playing for a bit.”

Like Shinnie, McInnes made the best of himself as a player, graduating from Morton to Rangers and then to the English Premier League. Perhaps the manager sees something of himself in Shinnie, whose goal from just over 20 yards last Thursday hands Aberdeen a slim but welcome advantage.

Shinnie has established himself in midfield and surely won’t return to left back, where he played mostly at Inverness, unless in an emergency. Some would describe him as a holding midfielder. But he made a mockery of this tag on Thursday when driving Aberdeen on to victory after the hosts had endured a tricky spell shortly after half-time.

In any case McInnes is not in favour of players being deployed in such restrictive roles.

“I’ve never liked midfielders just being sitting midfielders or number 10s,” he said. “I just want a midfielder to get about the pitch and do a bit of everything. Ryan Christie the other night does a lot of good work in the final third but he plays flat a lot beside Kenny McLean. He has the responsibility of being a midfielder at times rather than playing his own game as a number 10.

“So somebody has to take responsibility at times to bring a bit more balance to an attacking team.”

Possibly Ryan Jack’s departure has helped create room for Shinnie to breathe. Jack was closer to a holding midfielder than anyone else at the club, but his departure has allowed Shinnie to become a more prominent and influential presence.

Shinnie was certainly a popular choice to inherit the armband from someone whose copybook was severely blotted in the eyes of Aberdeen fans when he chose to move to Rangers on freedom of contract. But there’s no resentment towards Jack from McInnes.

“I wanted to keep Jacko,” said the manager. “He and Graeme are two completely different players, both with terrific qualities.

“Shine can do a bit of everything; he competes well, he can out jump guys who are 6ft 2in, he crunches into tackles, he takes information on well and he’s improving. His team-mates look up to him.”

Aberdeen will be relying on Shinnie again on Thursday in the likely baking heat of Larnaca, where Aberdeen are 90 minutes away from reaching the play-off round.