Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn has been praised for the dedication shown to break into Northern Ireland’s top 20 appearances list.
Entering the fray with just three minutes remaining, McGinn’s appearance may have been no more than a brief cameo in the 3-2 friendly victory over the Czech Republic on Monday.
However, coming off the bench in the 87th minute was a landmark occasion for the 32-year-old as he was elevated into the top-20 capped players.
He moved level on 59 caps with former Arsenal captain Terry Neill and Iain Dowie, the ex-West Ham and Southampton striker.
McGinn was named in the squad for Thursday’s 3-1 Euro 2020 qualifying loss away to Group C leaders Netherlands.
The Pittodrie playmaker was an unused substitute and had to wait a few more days to hit the milestone.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes said: “That is brilliant for Niall because he always makes himself available but has not always had it his own way at international level.
“Niall has travelled away with the Northern Ireland squad before and not got on.
“He has been all over Europe and the world and sat on the bench.
“However, Niall has always tried to be there.”
McGinn made his international debut while at Derry City when manager Nigel Worthington introduced the winger as a substitute against Norway in November 2008.
He would go on to feature in the Euro 2016 finals for his country, scoring in a 2-0 defeat of Ukraine. Northern Ireland would qualify for the knockout stages.
McGinn’s dedication to Northern Ireland, combined with Europa League pre-qualifier action at club level, has resulted in reduced summer holidays.
In summer 2014 he jetted out to South America for friendlies against Chile and Uruguay at the end of the domestic season.
McInnes said: “I see how Niall works every day and how diligent he is – how eager Niall is to keep up a standard of performance.
“I also know how eager he is to play for his country. Good on Niall for that (entering the top 20). It is great recognition for him.”
McGinn rejected the offer of a new Aberdeen contract at the end of the 2016-17 season and eventually signed on at Gwangju in the South Korean K League.
However, he fell out of the international set-up while overseas.
When his contract with Gwangju was terminated at the end of 2017 he returned to Pittodrie on a three-and-a-half-year contract.
One of the reasons for the return was to make it back into the Northern Ireland squad.
And it worked.
McGinn met up with Northern Ireland having been dropped to the bench in the match before the international break. He started in the 5-0 loss at Ibrox but was named as a substitute for the 1-1 draw with Hibs.
McGinn was introduced with 25 minutes remaining when the Dons were trailing 1-0 and also a man down following the red card to striker Curtis Main.
He helped Aberdeen battle back to salvage a draw, taking the corner Sam Cosgrove headed in.
McInnes said: “Niall was excellent when he came on against Hibs.”
Main will be suspended for Saturday’s Premiership clash at third-placed Motherwell.
Another repercussion from the Hibs game is the suspension of midfielder Lewis Ferguson.
The Scotland Under-21 cap received a straight red during injury-time for a late lunge on Hibs’ Stevie Mallan.
Aberdeen opted not to appeal the reds to Ferguson or Main.
McInnes said: “Lewis just got better and better against Hibs and was head and shoulders above everyone else in the second half.
“He was outstanding.
“It is just a shame for him that it finished on a sour note with the red card.
“My thoughts at the time were that Lewis has just mistimed it.
“Thankfully we only had a minute or two to go with just nine men.”