Doubts have been cast concerning Ian Cathro’s suitability for the top job at Hearts but Niall McGinn is absolutely certain Austin MacPhee will be the perfect fit as the new man’s assistant.
The Aberdeen midfielder completes what has been an outstanding year on a personal level with a trip to Tynecastle tonight, where he expects to come up against the planning of someone who McGinn credits with playing a large part in making 2016 such a memorable time in his career.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill rightly garnered plaudits for steering the country to the last 16 of the European Championship but McGinn insists MacPhee was a vital influence in their success.
The winger scored in the finals in the group game win against Ukraine but it was Hearts assistant MacPhee’s attention to detail both defensively and offensively that proved most productive.
McGinn expects something similarly impressive from Hearts in the future and wasn’t surprised by their interest, even though he’s relieved MacPhee is staying on with Northern Ireland given their impressive World Cup qualifying campaign.
“Austin has been great for me and Northern Ireland and it was no surprise to me that the SFA were interested in him [as performance director] as well,” said McGinn. “He’s in that new role at Hearts and I’m pleased to see him get a chance in club management, especially as they are a big club.
“I know he will always have them well organised as the work I saw him do behind the scenes was incredible.
“The work he does on the opposition is second to none and he is constantly busy on working on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. In recent years Northern Ireland have been renowned for being good at set pieces and that is all down to him in the way we use the likes of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans.
“We have scored a lot of goals from those situations which helped us massively, and he also organises defending them as well.
“I have a good relationship with him so if he sees me as a threat at Tynecastle then he will do his work defensively and have them organised but if we bring our A-game we will cause them problems.”
McGinn is one of several Aberdeen players out of contract in the summer and there has been no movement on new deals for any of them but James Maddison’s loan from Norwich City will be extended until the end of the season. Dons manager Derek McInnes is delighted with that but has warned the gifted midfielder he must take the hit from opponents to avoid yellow cards and a reputation for diving.
He was booked for the third time for simulation against Hamilton Accies in midweek and while one of those was subsequently rescinded McInnes is worried it’s going to become a habit.
“I think James has anticipated contact from [Hamilton player Dougie] Imrie’s challenge,” McInnes said. “He has went to ground and obviously not made contact.
“It is something I have spoken to James about. He has got to make sure he takes the contact in these situations.
“I have been asked a lot about how many kicks he takes during games. That is something he is going to have to deal with and sort out and we will help.”