Hibs’ Neil Lennon aims to improve John McGinn

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Hibernian head coach Neil Lennon has confirmed that the club fended off improved offers from Nottingham Forest for John McGinn during the closing stages of the transfer window.

The Scotland midfielder, who made a late substitute appearance in last Friday’s World Cup qualifying victory over Lithuania, had been the subject of intense interest from former Rangers manager Mark Warburton at the City Ground.

John McGinn was happy that Hibs turned down Nottingham Forests bids says Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS.

John McGinn was happy that Hibs turned down Nottingham Forests bids says Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS.

Hibs took Forest’s pursuit seriously, so much so that Lennon admitted that they lined up Celtic midfielder Liam Henderson as a potential replacement for McGinn.

A third and final offer from the English Championship club on deadline day last Thursday, said to be in the region of £1.5 million, was dismissed by the Easter Road board.

With the uncertainty put to bed until at least the January window opens, Lennon is hoping that the 22-year-old can become a more complete player with Hibs.

Lennon, who lost striker Jason Cummings to Forest at the start of the summer, said: “We had a valuation of the player, we engaged with Nottingham Forest. They made a couple more bids after the initial one, which was nowhere near good enough.

“The second and third ones were more respectable but they still didn’t come anywhere near the valuation we have of the player.

“I was always confident we would keep John. It puts us in a good light in terms of how healthy the club is financially that they don’t have to go chasing the money.

“I think he wanted us to engage with Forest and we did that, and he was happy with the outcome.

“There’s still more time for us to develop John and for John to develop himself into a more all-round player.

“He’s only 22 so he’s only a boy really in terms of football parlance. I don’t think he needs to go yet, I’m not sure he is completely ready to go yet.”

Confirming rumours of interest in Celtic midfielder Henderson, who won the Scottish Cup with Hibs last year during a season-long loan spell, Lennon said: “Only if the McGinn thing had gone through, we were weighing up options – and one would have been of him.

“We’ve always admired Liam but obviously, with John staying, we didn’t need to make a move.”

Lennon was on good form yesterday, fresh from signing a new three-year deal, and had no hesitation in recalling an embarrassing tale from 
yesteryear at Tommy Wright’s expense.

It involves the St Johnstone manager wearing a leotard under his training kit during their playing days, and Lennon revealed that he nicknamed his one-time Northern Ireland team-mate “Mick McManus” after the late wrestler.

The former Celtic manager got his own back after learning of Wright’s reaction when his friend was informed of Lennon learning Portuguese.

Wright apparently said: “Well, having played golf with him out in Portugal in the summer the only words he needs to learn are fore and ball right.”

The pair will put their friendship to one side when third-placed Saints host Hibs tomorrow afternoon.

Lennon said: “We go back over 20 years to playing together for the Northern Irish team. We kept in touch through all those years and we see each other every year in Portugal on our wee holiday.

“I’d never seen him as a manager back in our playing days, but he’s a very smart guy with a big personality.

“He showed real resilience throughout his career, because he had some really bad injuries to contend with. But he was a really talented goalkeeper.

“He used to wear a leotard. A leotard under his training kit.

“Oh, he’s never told you about the leotard, has he? Surprise!

“I used to call him Mick McManus because it was this all-in-one thing that he used to pull on with the straps over the shoulders.

“It was just one of those under armour things, you know. But it looked like a wrestler’s outfit, covering him all the way down there.

“That’s what he gets for slagging off my golf!”

Lennon, however, has been impressed by how Wright has constantly defied the modest resources on offer at the Perth outfit to mastermind three successive fourth-place league finishes and a Scottish Cup 
triumph.

“I’m surprised that someone hasn’t tried to pinch him,” he added:

“But he seems happy there and has brought great success. Winning the Scottish Cup was fantastic and a top-four finish in this day and age for St Johnstone is spectacular, really.

“I watched him against Celtic and they were good value for the draw. Not many teams are good value for a point at 
Celtic park.

“He is smart, he’s tactically very astute and he sets his team up well. And he knows what he’s doing with players, knows how to get the best thing out of his players. That’s a great quality to have.”

Lennon was awaiting news of Darren McGregor’s visit to a specialist last night after admitting that the defender may have to undergo a minor operation to mend a persistent knee injury.