John McGinn: Leaving home has made me a better player

When he celebrated his 21st birthday last month, John McGinn received one present he certainly didn’t anticipate.
John McGinn stretches off at training ahead of the game against Ukraine Picture: SNSJohn McGinn stretches off at training ahead of the game against Ukraine Picture: SNS
John McGinn stretches off at training ahead of the game against Ukraine Picture: SNS

“My mum bought me an iron,” he laughs. “I didn’t ask for it but I’m learning how to use it.”

The reason for Mrs McGinn’s choice of gift was her son’s decision to leave home for the first time and move into his own flat in Edinburgh. It is a change of lifestyle and environment the Scotland under-21 captain credits for his sparkling form of recent weeks which has helped revitalise Hibernian’s challenge for the Championship title.

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“I really think moving through to the east has helped my form,” adds the former St Mirren midfielder. “I know it sounds a bit strange, but it has helped me mature on the pitch as well. Having the responsibility of doing everything for myself off the pitch has helped me grow up. The gaffer (Alan Stubbs) has also given me more responsibility on the pitch and not having to make that journey through from Glasgow every day, which was a nightmare, has also benefited me.

“I’ve got used to living away from home a lot quicker than I thought I would. I don’t know why women moan about the ironing. I’m cooking as well. I ask if the chef at Hibs training ground has any leftovers from lunch and sometimes I take them home for dinner, but if not I can go to the shops and cook for myself.”

Being part of a side racking up victories as regularly as Hibs currently are is a refreshing change for McGinn, who was previously embroiled in a relegation struggle at St Mirren. It’s a habit he would like to take into Scotland’s European under-21 Championship qualifier against Ukraine in Paisley tonight.

“I’ve not been used to winning as many games as we have at Hibs and I’m hoping that myself, Jason Cummings and Liam Henderson can take that confidence into the match against Ukraine,” he said.

“This is a completely different experience to what I was used to at St Mirren. Wins were pretty special there.

“We’re enjoying them at Hibs, too, but we know that we need to keep this going, but I think that we’ve developed the mentality which will help us to maintain it.

“Someone asked me the other day whether performances take priority over results at this level with Scotland. For me, 
performances are obviously important but results are even more important.

“There’s no point in us playing well and losing 3-0. If we’re going to get any better, then we need to develop a winning mentality. That’s what Gordon Strachan and the other coaches are trying to instil in us.”

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The involvement of Scotland manager Strachan with the under-21 squad this week has provided a fresh perspective to their work for McGinn and his team-mates.

“I wouldn’t say it’s changed an awful lot, although it’s been a privilege to have a man of his stature around the camp,” added McGinn.

“We’ve all worked as hard as we normally do, but it’s given us a wee boost to know that there’s an opportunity for us.

“He’s only really spoken to the boys on an informal level, getting to know us more as people rather than what we’re about on the pitch.

“As far as the training goes, he’s left that to Ricky Sbragia because he knows that he’s the manager of our team. Ricky’s been getting us drilled for the game, it’s not as though he’s taken a back seat.

“But I was sitting having a coffee with Jason Cummings the other day and Gordon just pulled up a chair and joined us. It was good to talk to him, he asked us about our families and how we enjoyed life at our club.

“He’ll see a lot of potential in the under-21s. But, as we’ve said before, there’s a big difference between potential and actually carrying it out, going on to prove your ability. That’s what we’ll need to show against Ukraine. First, we need to show that we are willing to work hard for the team. But we also 
want to show our individual qualities.

“We know how crucial this game is, even though there’s still a long way to go. Teams have been taking points off each other already and I don’t think there’s a bad team in the group.

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“Ukraine have some really good players. We’ve watched them and gone into some detail about them and we know they can be a threat but we’ve got to bring our own qualities into play.”

McGinn is relishing his role as captain of Sbragia’s squad as he prepares to win his ninth cap at under-21 level.

“I love it,” he said. “I take a lot of stick from the boys but they know if they’ve got an issue they can come and talk with me and I’ll pass it on.

“There are always new things I need to do, but I’m thriving with it. I think it suits my style of play. I like to work hard and I think I’m a leader – not so much with my voice but with the way I play. I feel as though I can galvanise the team. It’s what I hope to carry on doing.”