NIALL McGinn denies his match-winning performance at Inverness was motivated by retribution for Caley Thistle drastically curtailing the Aberdeen player’s plans for a decent summer break.
The Highlanders’ Scottish Cup semi-final victory the previous weekend means the Dons now face a Europa League qualifier at the start of July rather than much later in the month had Celtic gone on to lift the trophy.
They now report back for training on 15 June, just two days after McGinn plays for Northern Ireland against Romania in Belfast, where a win will take Michael O’Neill’s team top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group.
It is something the midfielder has become used to though, as the groundwork for that was done during last summer’s trip to Uruguay and Chile, which also resulted in a short rest period.
There was certainly no sign of burn-out in McGinn’s performance on Saturday as David Raven inadvertently deflected in his wickedly curling f ree kick for an equaliser before he pounced to sweep home the goal that confirmed Aberdeen as, at least, runners-up for the first time in 21 years.
Those goals during a six-minute spell during the second half proved once again how Derek McInnes’s side know how to win when not at the top of their game and why their matchwinner is happy to play virtually year round.
“It’s a massive time for me both for club and country,” enthused McGinn. “Aberdeen won a trophy last season, we have done well in the league this time and the international stage has also been great for me.
“To be part of the Northern Ireland set-up is great and to have the opportunity to qualify for a major tournament is unbelievable. I’m a professional footballer and I love what I’m doing.
“Our manager is always good to me and he’ll give me some time off after the Northern Ireland game and I’ll probably meet up after the summer about a week after the rest of the boys.
“That’s been the norm for me over the last few years. I’m fortunate to be in that position being an international player and it’s a situation I enjoy.”
There has certainly been a lot to enjoy about Aberdeen’s form in the league as they have taken more points from the teams below them in the table than Celtic so far this season.
It is defeats in the head-to-head meetings with the defending champions that have proved so costly when it comes to actually winning the title, but McGinn is proud of the progress made in his three years at Pittodrie.
Brought back to Scotland from a disappointing spell at Brentford by former manager Craig Brown, McGinn has seen Aberdeen go from bottom-half strugglers to a team that has kept the pressure on Celtic until the final few weeks of the season.
“It’s a massive achievement as we wanted to progress from last season and the big disappointment of losing to Motherwell on the final day, which has been in the back of our minds” admits McGinn.
“Thankfully we have passed that stage this season and are guaranteed that second spot. It’s been a long time since we achieved that, so it’s great for the club and the fans. At least Celtic aren’t running away with the league so it’s good we are up there challenging for first spot.”
Of course Caley Thistle have significant 21-year celebrations of their own planned to mark their coming of age since the Inverness club was formed back in 1994.
A first-ever Scottish Cup final has already been secured and they are close to clinching a highest-ever league finish and points tally of their own to go with it, despite taking just four points from the last eight games.
The reason for that was all too obvious as Edward Ofere’s goal early in the second half was scant reward for a game they had dominated in the first half only to squander several gilt-edged chances. None worse than Marley Watkins, who must have had a flashback to when he played alongside Scott Brown at Cheltenham. It looked like a passback to the Aberdeen goalkeeper when he should have burst the net from point-blank range.
“We missed too many good chances, especially myself. I had to score my chance even though Scott Brown says it was a great save,” said an obviously dejected Watkins afterwards.
“We should have killed the game off by half-time but we didn’t.They’ve beaten us four times out of four so fair play to them. They showed why they are second but hopefully we can finish third which would be a massive achievement for the club.”