As if it wasn’t spelled out to him enough during his last Edinburgh derby appearance, John McGinn accepts he is now a marked man.
The Hibs midfielder was the victim of Harry Cochrane’s flying challenge as the teenager succumbed to a combination of youthful exuberance and frustration to send McGinn, in the player’s own words, “on to the astro” at the side of the Easter Road pitch.
“I liked that,” McGinn was quick to add. He relished the challenge of being viewed as the more experienced of two combatants since it involves such a turnaround in what he has become accustomed to. McGinn, now 23, is normally the one cast as the greenhorn.
So if not exactly welcoming being dumped on the track at Easter Road, he liked what it said about Cochrane, who is suspended for today’s clash after picking up two yellow cards in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with St Johnstone. Nevertheless, McGinn knows he will be singled out for special treatment. It just won’t be Cochrane this time.
McGinn doesn’t hold it against the teenager – in any case the pain was assuaged by Hibs’ 1-0 win that evening. “It showed he had no fear. Even though he’s 16 years old he wanted to mix it up, he didn’t just want to be a nice footballer,” he said.
While McGinn won’t have to watch out for Cochrane, Hearts manager Craig Levein is sure to devise a plan to seek to diminish the Hibs midfielder’s influence tonight.
Recently he has noticed teams are paying particular attention to him. It says everything about the player’s qualities, as well as illustrating why he is so highly valued, that a deep-lying midfielder is finding he is being man marked.
“Whoever I am up against, I just want to prove myself,” said McGinn.
“In the past few weeks there’s been a lot more pressure put on me when I receive the ball. A lot of teams have noticed what I do,” he said. “I’ve worked on dealing with it with the coaching staff here. The top players have to adapt to that.
“I need to be aware of who my marker is and you need to take them away and create space for a team-mate.
“If someone is going to spend a whole game marking you then there may be games when I will have to sacrifice myself for the team,” he added. “We have all the video analysis to show me that and it is a great learning tool.”
For what seems a long time now McGinn has been cast as the novice attempting to claim a more experienced rival’s crown. Just over a fortnight ago it was the Hibs midfielder who was attempting to get one over Scott Brown. Not that he resorted to crude challenges.
Opinion was divided afterwards as to whether McGinn had emerged triumphant from the midfield battle between a current Scotland midfielder and one expected to take his place. Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was adamant Brown reigned supreme.
“No contest,” he said. Lennon felt McGinn had shown all his qualities when driving Hibs’ comeback from 2-0 down.
“It was funny reading that,” he said. “Our gaffer backed me up and Brendan backed Scott. But as soon as the final whistle went we had a wee giggle. We get on really well.
“He’s been fantastic for me since I stepped up into the international scene, he is always there for advice and to make me feel welcome.
“The thing that has helped take him to the next level is as soon as he steps on to the park no-one is his mate. Everyone wants to test themselves against him. But as soon as the final whistle goes he is back to his normal self. I never read too much into what was said afterwards.”
McGinn also has to accept he will be the target for opposition fans. As Brown can reflect over his long career, the best players are invariably the ones singled out for this kind of welcome.
“Going to places like Tynecastle, where you’re so close to the crowd, you get reminded how ugly you are and stuff like that!” he said. “I remember when I was at St Mirren someone called me the ugliest thing they had seen at Tynecastle – and two minutes later I scored. It was brilliant. I just laugh it off. I agree with them most of the time!”
McGinn has also learned to cope with the constant transfer speculation, which is due to resume in a few days’ time once the window opens again. “I’m used to it now,” he said.
“Over the last few windows the speculation has been quite rife. People keep texting me telling me things are happening. I am oblivious to it. It’s for the club and my agent to deal with. I said in the summer I am happy.
“Down the line I have ambitions to test myself at a higher level. But I won’t be rushing into that. If it means waiting until the summer, or even beyond, I am more than willing to do that.”