McGinn on a mission for Saints
The eldest in trio of footballing brothers says he’s determined to end his long wait for a trophy in the Irn-Bru Cup final. By Graeme Macpherson
STEPHEN McGinn Snr was said to have been a decent footballer in his day but never made a career in the game. His wife Mary still plays netball socially, as does their daughter Katie. It speaks to an active family, if not one of outstanding sporting pedigree. Which makes the fact that all three of their sons made it as professional footballers all the more remarkable.
Stephen Jnr, Paul and John McGinn are not the first trio of siblings to forge a path in the game – the McLeans blazed that trail in the 1960s before the Wallace triumvirate emerged at Southampton two decades later – but it remains a rare enough feat.
All will be stripped for action next weekend – Paul, the middle brother, for Chesterfield at home to Rochdale in League One, John, the youngest, could feature for Scotland in their World Cup qualifier against Slovenia, while Stephen, the eldest of the three, will lead out St Mirren in their Irn-Bru Cup final appearance against Dundee United.
“We are a close family,” reveals Stephen over a coffee in a café near St Mirren’s training ground in the Ralston area of Paisley. “But it wasn’t like we were three extremely talented or blessed kids who were definitely going to make it.
“Certainly Paul and I had to work really hard for everything that we’ve achieved. By all accounts my dad and uncles were good players although none played professionally. My sister and my mum both play netball. So I don’t know if it’s the genes or just because we’re three boys who used to play football all the time as kids.
“I think having two brothers in the game brings the best out in each other. Even when I played against John recently, I wanted to take him on as he’s a Scotland player and I wanted to prove I’m as good as him. We’ll all go and watch the others playing if we can. And we’re not daft. I might come off the park after a game and say, ‘I was rubbish’ and John or Paul will say, ‘aye, you were’. That spurs you on but it also keeps you grounded.”
Stephen smiles as he notes he was “completely jealous” of John when he won the League Cup with St Mirren in 2013 and then the Scottish Cup with Hibs last summer. In truth, he could not be more complimentary of his little brother who, at 22, is six years his junior.
“I’m completely biased but I can’t believe Celtic haven’t come in for John as yet,” he offers. There are teams from England starting to show an interest in him. “He’s in no rush to leave Hibs but the pinnacle for any young Scottish player just now is to play for Celtic or in the English Premier League. If John doesn’t get to one of those levels I don’t think he’ll have done himself justice.”
It could be said, too, that Stephen is playing below his capabilities having returned to St Mirren in January after spending the best part of the last seven years in England, latterly with Wycombe Wanderers.
Rooted to the foot of the Championship, his agent strongly advised against the move. But the chance to be reunited with manager Jack Ross – a former teammate – and the lure of returning to a club he feels passionately about – proved too strong to turn down.
“I wouldn’t have come back for any other team,” he adds. “I did wonder if I was signing up for a sinking ship. But the manager is someone I trust. I thought highly of him before as a player and a teammate, and then when he went into coaching he had my brother Paul at Dumbarton and he raved about him.
“Plus it was St Mirren. I was talking to my dad the other day about how it has been such a big part of our lives for at least 15 years now. You start to develop a real feeling for a club. We weren’t boyhood St Mirren supporters but I’d say now I’m a St Mirren fan. I’d love to be remembered as the captain that led us to the great escape.”
McGinn was still waiting to make his debut when St Mirren last won the Challenge Cup in 2005, and had just left for Watford when the Paisley side reached and lost the 2010 League Cup final to Rangers. It is why he is treating this final – his first at senior level – with the seriousness he feels it merits.
“When I came back to the club there were two challenges set: can you stay in the league? And can you win the cup? And those are still the objectives. If I could finish the season with the cup and having stayed up these would be the proudest months of my career.”
If I could finish the season with the cup and having stayed up these would be the proudest months of my career