Having grown up a Hibs fan, Darren McGregor is under no illusions. He knows that while the club will do its best to hold on to its best talent, there will come a time when the main players will exit stage right and head off to chase loftier ambitions and bigger pay packets. Such is life.
At the moment the Championship club are reaping the rewards of a talent like John McGinn, who has seen out two terms in the country’s second tier with the Leith club but has still managed to produce the standards to squeeze into a Scotland squad where midfield ability was already its strongest asset.
While others, such as McGregor have probably been denied that opportunity by their league status (he says he will still head along to Wednesday’s match against Canada at Easter Road to support the team), McGinn’s promise could not be ignored. His latest call-up by national boss Gordon Strachan could rule him out of the key league clash with Falkirk next weekend and while there are others who can step into the void, McGregor says that no-one can really take his place.
“We’re lucky with regard to the players we’ve got at our disposal,” said McGregor. “Dylan McGeouch could come in and play McGinn’s role, so could Fraser Fyvie. But, for me, you’ll never be able to truly replace John McGinn because he’s an exceptional talent. To replace a guy like that, you’d need to spend thousands and thousands of pounds a week. We’re just lucky to have him. We’ll appreciate him for the rest of the season and then what happens after that, it is obviously up to him.”
The 22-year-old McGinn is contracted to the club until summer 2019 but such is the high level of consistency, his team-mate accepts it may be difficult to fend off all interest in him until that point.
“You need to just enjoy his talent while he’s here,” said McGregor. “I’ve supported Hibs and seen the likes of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Fletch [Steven Fletcher] come through and then move on. Although Hibs are a big club, you know that you can’t always hold on to your best players forever. Sometimes you just have to look back on it and say ‘well he’s given us a few good years and we’re going to potentially make a lot of money off him’.
“At McGinn’s age, he’s only going to flourish further. I’m sure whatever he goes on to do, he’ll look back and thank Hibs for maturing him. I was at St Mirren with John so I saw him as a 16-year-old coming through. He had all the attributes he has now but he’s just refined them and become better all the time. He’s like a wine, getting better with age, so who knows how good he’s going to be in his mid-to-late 20s. He’ll be a superstar.”
While some youngsters can be persuaded to ignore the big offers short-term, and a return to the Premiership, if the last nine games go to plan, could help convince McGinn that he has enough of a new challenge to stick around a while longer, speculation suggests there is growing interest in taking him south of the border.
“The one thing that counts against a lot of Scottish boys when they go down south is their lack of physicality and presence within a game, but John’s not going to have that problem,” said McGregor. “He’s got all the attributes. In terms of his physicality, his mindset and his approach to the game, he ticks all the boxes.
“He’s a great guy, really grounded. That’s obviously been instilled by his parents. They’re really nice people as well so he comes from good stock. With his attitude and application, he’ll only go one way – and that’s up.”
But while they have McGinn, McGregor says the whole squad needs to keep working together to build on last season’s Scottish Cup success. There will be a chance to retain that trophy but first they need to make it down the home straight in the league without any major stumbles.
There is extra tension as they near the finishing post, with the next three games key to determining the outcome. First up is Dumbarton today, with the team looking for back to back wins, before they then meet their only remaining realistic challengers for the title, Falkirk and then Morton.
“I think nerves and apprehension are good going into a game because it shows you care and keeps you on edge,” said McGregor.
“Some people might think Dumbarton at home is relatively easy for us but we’ve come up short in games like this before so we’re well aware of the complacency element.”