The numbers added up for John McGinn this week… as they came down.
The Hibernian midfielder was first among equals as he earned the man of the match award in a creditable Scotland display despite the 1-0 defeat by the Netherlands on Thursday night. In linking up with old St Mirren colleague Kenny McLean, the two became as one again in a football team. And McGinn feels his attributes are now being more readily acknowledged because he is no longer in the second tier with the Easter Road side but allowed to lead the charge for a top-three placing by manager Neil Lennon.
Then there is the shirt number that temporary Scotland manager Malky Mackay handed him at Pittodrie. “To start as No.8 for Scotland was a massive honour for me. It’s the lowest number I’ve ever been for Scotland,” said the 23-year-old, who declared it an “extra boost” to hear his named announced on the Tannoy as man of the match.
“I was 14 for the whole of the last campaign. So I’ve told my mum and dad, I’ve gone from 14 to eight – so I’m getting there! You just need to try and be patient with Scotland because I know I’m competing with top players for a place in midfield.
“I managed to get an opportunity when Stuart [Armstrong] pulled out injured for the Holland game. It was up to me to grab that chance. I was desperate to do that and I think I managed it. To be No.8 for my country was a dream come true and hopefully I can make the position my own now.”
McGinn pinpoints the influence of Lennon in allowing him to excel in the second start of the five caps he has earned for his country.
“This is as good as I’ve felt in my career so far,” he said. “I’m definitely playing the best football of my life right now. It’s all credit to the people at Hibs because they’re letting me go out and play. The gaffer has been great, he believes in me. He’s put a lot of onus on me to go and lead at 23 years old. I feel as if I’m carrying that on, I’m developing and I feel stronger with every game. I’m fitter and faster than I’ve ever been.
“On Thursday night, I tried to impose myself on the game and I didn’t want to look out of place in that company. The longer the game went on, I grew from strength to strength. I have to keep that level going now. My confidence is high and I feel I can go in against anybody right now and compete.
“I believe in myself. I’ve had to be really patient with Scotland whenever I’ve gone away with squads. But there are a lot of good players who miss out. When you go in against players like [Kevin] Strootman, [Danny] Blind and [Georginio] Wijnaldum in midfield, you have to distance yourself from the fact they play in the Premier League or Serie A.
“You need to show you’re as good as them or better than them. I feel that I managed to compete and hopefully in the future, I’ll be going up against these players on a weekly basis.
“The gaffer at Hibs called me while I was away and told me it was my time with Scotland. He said it took him a long time for people to stand up and take notice of him. And he said I should just do what I’ve been doing for Hibs. It’s brilliant to have him teaching me. And if I have half the career he had, I’ll be delighted.
“Maybe when Hibs were in the Championship some people didn’t think I should be in the Scotland squad. But ever since I was young I’ve always had bumps. I’ve been knocked down with people not believing in me. But that’s just made me hungry to be successful.
“It’s massive credit to Gordon Strachan for calling me up at that time, he had a lot of faith in me. He continued to pick me when people were slamming the decision. Hopefully people are seeing that I’m a good player now and I want to keep that up.”