Qualifying for a major finals for the first time since 1998, the Aston Villa favourite, who has been named William Hill Scottish Football Writers' Association International Player of the Year for the second successive year, says they are hellbent on following that up with a spot at next year’s World Cup to compensate the likes of Kenny McLean and Ryan Jack, who will miss next month’s showcase with injuries.
“I was gutted because Kenny is one of my closest mates in football. We played together at St Mirren. I speak to him most days,” said the 26-year-old who feared the worst the moment he saw his international team-mate had been substituted in Norwich City’s final fixture of the season, against Barnsley, 10 days ago.
“I saw he’d come off in 52 minutes so I texted his fiancée and asked if he was alright. At the same time I noticed Lyndon [Dykes] was also struggling and I thought ‘oh no’. Then she sent me a picture of him with the knee brace and I was gutted,” added McGinn.
The Carrow Road midfielder netted penalties in the play-off shoot-outs with Israel and then Serbia, and having all formed a tight bond, McGinn believes the devastation will be shared by all the Scotland players.
“We became so close knit and Kenny is such a criminally underrated player. He’s a superb player and a brilliant teammate. He’s not always a guaranteed starter but he’s always involved and someone a manager and his teammates can put their trust in.
“Obviously, he’s absolutely devastated and it’s the same for Ryan too. They’re two massive members of the squad who are missing out.
“But it motivates us to make sure this isn’t a one-off, so they can be as relaxed as Van Dijk or players like that knowing Qatar is on the horizon.
“It makes us even more determined to get to Qatar to give them the experience we’ll hopefully get this summer.
“Everyone knows how passionate I am about playing for Scotland and it is such an exciting time to be involved. Hopefully we can do ourselves justice.”
And, even without McLean and Jack, he believes Clarke still has no shortage of midfield options.
“I think the squad size going from 23 to 26 should give a lot of players hope. Something has changed in Scotland.
“Dundee United played two young players the other night, Josh Doig the writers’ young player of the year has been exceptional. There are a lot of young players who are capable and ready to step up and it doesn’t faze them. I’ve come across Billy [Gilmour] a few times down here.
“He’s an exceptional player - it’s just a matter of time. It’s the same with David [Turnbull], who’s been exceptional. But there are others as well – there’s Ryan Gauld, and Paul McGinn can play centre mid as well!
“So many players can put themselves into that bracket. We have a pool of about 40 or 50 players the manager can rely on. It’s refreshing they’ve got something to play towards and look forward to.”