McGinn says Aberdeen return sharpened him up for surprise Northern Ireland recall

Niall McGinn of Northern Ireland beats the challenge of Eldar Civic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during their UEFA Nations League B group three match.
Niall McGinn of Northern Ireland beats the challenge of Eldar Civic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during their UEFA Nations League B group three match.

Returning to Aberdeen has elevated winger Niall McGinn back into the international reckoning –and he aims to shine for the Dons to stay there.

The 31-year-old is in contention to earn a 55th cap for Northern Ireland tomorrow in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.

It is a warm-up for a Nations League home clash against Austria on Sunday as Northern Ireland, pointless after three games and bottom of League 3 Group B, face relegation.

McGinn is back in Michael O’Neill’s squad after a spell in the international wilderness following a move to South Korea.

Having rejected the offer of a new Dons deal at the end of the 2016-17, McGinn, who joined the Northern Ireland Hall of Fame by reaching 50 caps during his time at Pittodrie, moved to Gwangju in the K League.

During his time in East Asia, the winger played just once for his country as a late substitute in the 3-0 World Cup qualifying win at minnows San Marino in September.

McGinn subsequently fell out of the frame for his country until returning to Aberdeen on a three-and-a-half year contract in January this year following the termination of his Gwangju contract by mutual consent.

He started the 2-1 Nations League loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina this September for his first cap in a year.

McGinn was in the squad for the Nations League games against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina last month but had to pull out with a groin injury.

Now fully fit, he is determined to make the most of his international return.

He said: “Playing for Northern Ireland is absolutely massive for me. When I got to start in the Nations League game (v Bosnia and Herzegovina) I was a little surprised but over the moon.

“The manager called me to the side and said I had looked really good in training and had worked hard. He said I was looking good, fit and strong.

“That has obviously come from playing football at Aberdeen and doing well.

“For the manager to give me the nod to play in that game was a massive boost for myself.

“I thought I did quite well in the game, which was pleasing.

“As long as I am in the eye-line of the manager at international level it can only benefit me as a player.

“Doing well with Aberdeen will definitely enhance my chances of playing more on the international stage as well.”

Ultimately McGinn spent less than six months in South Korea, had less than anticipated game time and Gwangju were also relegated.

He said: “I have no regrets whatsoever. I chose to do something else but the football side didn’t work out.”

McGinn will return from international duty with a Betfred Cup final against Celtic on the horizon on Sunday December 2.

A League Cup winner with the Dons in 2014, the winger played a pivotal role in securing the final slot as it was his corner kick that was headed home by Lewis Ferguson to dump Rangers 1-0.

Niall McGinn taking a free-kick at Hampden.<br />Picture by Scott Baxter.

For now his focus is on starring for his country and securing payback for a 5-0 defeat to Republic of Ireland seven years ago. McGinn came on as a substitute in the heavy Nations Cup defeat in Dublin in May 2011.

“The last time we played Republic of Ireland was a massive disappointment and we didn’t show up,” he said.

“It hurts any time you lose. But if you lose by that margin it is always disappointing.

“They got their confidence up and scored a few goals.

“Since then we have gained a lot of confidence and experience. “We have progressed a lot as a team and we have to use that to our advantage in Dublin.”

Yet to register a point in three games, Northern Ireland, who host Austria on Sunday, are facing Nations League relegation. For a team that starred in the Euro 2016 finals and reached the World Cup 2018 play-offs (losing 1-0 to Switzerland) recent form has been concerning.

Northern Ireland are without a win in seven competitive games and have lost six of those and have scored just twice.

McGinn said: “As a nation and a team we just want to get back to winning ways as soon as possible.

“The manager is looking for wins going into the draw for the Euros in March.

“Performances in recent matches have been good, but we knoe on the international stage, if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net you are going to get punished.

“We hit the post three times in the last game so it is just about getting that bit of luck to get that win. In the qualifying campaign (World Cup 2018), even when we did not play well at times, we were still able to win games.

“That is what we want to get back to.

“We just want to get back to keeping clean sheets and winning games.”