But, having enjoyed a front row seat as McGinn transitioned from a Scotland wannabe to a Tartan Army favourite, his former Hibs’ team-mate Paul Hanlon revealed that the midfielder was not always so self-assured. Instead, he says that being given the opportunity to shine – and to achieve – on the international stage offered the Scot a psychological fillip and he is now hoping the same will be true of current Easter Road club-mate Kevin NIsbet.
The 24-year-old striker has used this summer to showcase his talent. Having debuted in the dark blue of Scotland in the World Cup qualifier against Faroe Islands in March, he has added a further five caps to his collection since the club season wrapped up.
In one of those, he opened his national goal account with a goal against one of the European big hitters in Netherlands, before making late cameo appearances in each of Scotland’s Euro 2020 group matches as national boss Steve Clarke looked for late goals.
“I think he’ll take a lot of confidence from that, first and foremost,” said Hanlon, who has been revelling in the chance to watch Scotland at a major finals and enjoying the relaxation of Covid rules that allows him to take in the footballing jamboree with mates. “He will really feel like he belongs on that international stage now. For the manager to put him on in every single game and for him to get his first goal for his country as well, in those warm up games, he is going to come back full of confidence and hopefully as a club we’ll get the benefits of that.
“McGinn would be an example of that.”
Interest in Nisbet
Handed his Scotland debut in 2016 while Hibs were still in the Championship, McGinn helped them to their historic Scottish Cup win and secured promotion, before moving on in August 2018.
“We just felt like he grew in stature coming back and really kicked on,” recalled Hanlon. “He’s probably done that at every stage of his career when he’s made a move, he has that stature and belief about himself and I’m sure you’ll see that with Kevin coming back to Hibs as well.”
Nisbet has already backed himself, bouncing back from disappointment in the early days to climb the career ladder, from Raith Rovers to Dunfermline, to Hibs, banging in the goals at each club and catching Clarke’s eye.
Others have noticed, with several clubs north and south of the border considering bids.
“You would expect that,” admits Hanlon. “I’m sure Hibs as a club are expecting more interest so, I’m sure, if there is, they won’t be surprised by it, that’s for sure – in terms of what he’s done over the summer on top of the season he had.
“It’s something that happens in football and I’m sure the people in charge of the club will have contingency plans should he leave.”
Further McGinn windfall
But, as the Leith side proved with McGinn, they are not afraid to knock back offers, turning down both Nottingham Forest and Celtic, before Aston Villa stumped up and there could be a further windfall if rumours of a £50m transfer to Liverpool pan out.
“That’s a bargain, eh,” said the Hibs defender. “But I think there is a clause [in his contract] in terms of sell-ons which would be great for Hibs. Listen, he’s a great guy and he has been brilliant for Scotland first and foremost as well. If he managed to earn himself a move like that, in my eye it would be fully deserved for what he’s done for Aston Villa and Scotland.
“Anyone who has worked with John is not surprised how he constantly steps up, it’s his character, he is humble and down to earth but he has that determination to succeed and confidence in his own ability at the same time and you can see that when he plays.
“He’s a dream for football fans really, he is the one that gets you off your seat and excited and I’m sure if he did get another move he would be exactly the same player as he is at Aston Villa.”
Hanlon in Clarke’s thoughts
The fact that Scotland have tasted life back at the top table in terms of tournament football will be a driving force behind that, and Hanlon says the same can be said for guys like Nisbet and even himself after he gained his first cap as a substitute in Scotland’s 1-0 Nations League win over Czech Republic.
“I just need to concentrate on what I’m doing every single week and play well. The fact he chose me a few months ago, I’m in around the thoughts but there are a lot of players playing at the top level of the game as well. “Looking at my circumstances, when I was in the squad there were quite a lot of people pulling out so I got my chance. I was delighted to get my cap and be involved in it and in a good win at the time. I knew coming towards the end of the season I would probably need the same thing to happen again to be involved [in the Euros].”
He didn’t have that luck. And, while he says “it was really enjoyable being a fan and seeing the whole nation buzzing about the tournament” he hasn’t given up hope of playing his part in future Scotland achievements. But for him, Nisbet and McGinn, the focus returns to club football and earning that place in Clarke’s plans.