Niall McGinn believes that Aberdeen are proving the old adage about never changing a winning team is correct. Amid speculation about his future, the winger is also delighted to feel part of things at Pittodrie again.
Even the winter break, during which Aberdeen flew off to Dubai, has not disrupted momentum.
Manager Derek McInnes resisted the temptation to give his star players any further time off against Stranraer in the Scottish Cup, meaning McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Adam Rooney lined up in the 4-0 win over the League 1 side.
They did so again in Friday’s 3-0 win over Dundee, when McGinn scored twice. It was the fifth game in a row that McInnes has selected the same starting XI, with the result being five wins. But something will have to give tomorrow against McGinn’s former club Celtic, who are on their own run of ten successive victories.
The hope among Aberdeen supporters is that McInnes has the option to name an unchanged side for a sixth successive time at Celtic Park, since that would mean having survived the transfer window intact.
Jonny Hayes has been linked with a £500,000 move to Cardiff City, while McGinn himself is said to be interesting Hearts – although he is unlikely to leave before the end of the season, particularly given his current contentment with life at Pittodrie.
Surprisingly left on the bench the last time Aberdeen faced Celtic, when they were heavily beaten in the League Cup final, it is inconceivable that this will be the case tomorrow. McGinn is helping make Aberdeen tick at present, scoring seven times in eight appearances since that Hampden disappointment.
Hayes, too, is integral to this recent run of good form and McGinn is desperate for his chum to stay, for the time being at least.
McInnes put his faith in Hayes, McGinn and the equally experienced Rooney to lift Aberdeen out of the slough of despond in which they fell following the one-sided League Cup final defeat by Celtic.
After further defeats by Rangers and Ross County, the manager told the trio that he would be relying on them to perform in the coming weeks, and they haven’t let him down.
If McGinn felt let down by being named among the substitutes at Hampden (he came on after 71 minutes with Aberdeen already 3-0 down), he has not let it affect him. His first goal on Friday against Dundee was one of the goals of the season and his second, a header from Hayes’ cross, showed how invaluable the pair are to the Aberdeen cause.
“Obviously Jonny’s contract talks are ongoing and there are other teams interested,” said McGinn. “I am a close friend of his and I’m not surprised because he’s probably been our best player for the last year, year and a half. To have him for the rest of the season would be great for the club. We’ll see what happens. But as you saw (against Dundee) he’s done really well, and long may it continue if he stays.”
McGinn noted that the consistency in selection has been beneficial for the team. He has clearly responded well to being told by the manager that he is needed, with the winger’s contract set to expire in the summer. McGinn is free to agree a pre-contract deal with any interested club and is keeping his options open.
“I remember a number of weeks ago now, before we had that busy week with I think three games, the manager pulled me, Jonny and Adam in to say he was going to play us against Motherwell,” McGinn recalled. “He has the boys he can trust, who have done the job for him over the last number of years, and it’s paid-off – we are scoring goals, creating chances and playing with freedom. It’s been good to be part of.”
He also reacted well to the holiday he was invited to take by McInnes during the winter break, after exertions stretching back to early summer, when he was involved in Northern Ireland’s four-match campaign at Euro 2016. McGinn chose to visit a friend in San Francisco in a mini tour of the United States during which he also stopped off in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara.
“It was good to just get some down time, take my mind off football and just relax a bit,” he said.
“I went to Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and also to a Warriors basketball game, you name it!
“It’s good to get a break at the right time and put the feet up a bit. I had a solid two weeks doing nothing, just catching up with family and friends.
“The highlight of the trip was just spending time with people that I don’t get too see all that often, that’s what it was all about.
“I really enjoyed it and it has done me good because I have played a lot of football in the last couple of seasons. Once the two weeks was over I was keen to get back into the swing of things.
“I like the routine I’ve got when I’m here, just working hard – and it helps we’ve had a good start to 2017.”