Football/Soccer

Niall McGinn hoping to begin again against familiar foes in the Republic of Ireland

Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Ukraine at Euro 2016.

WORDS can be weapons - but one chosen by Niall McGinn shouldn’t be used as a stick with which to beat him.

Asked if tomorrow night’s ‘friendly’ tussle between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland might be ‘a clash of styles’, the Aberdeen winger replied: “It may be more of a British-style game. There are a lot of their players playing in similar leagues to ourselves.

“It will be a game with a lot of good players on show and it will be a great arena to play football in.”

The Donaghmore man drew some ire when he honestly, but naively, said he was a Republic of Ireland fan in a post-match interview – just after he and Northern Ireland had been humiliated 5-0 in the Aviva Stadium during the Carling Nations Cup in 2011.

It didn’t matter with some that the then 23-year-old added: “I think the only good thing to come out of tonight is that I got Robbie Keane's jersey.”

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Since then McGinn has become a bona fide NI legend, having scored the second goal in the Euro 2016 victory over Ukraine.

In his second spell with the Pittodrie club, after a spell in South Korea, McGinn has no doubts about who he wants to triumph tomorrow night:

“They haven’t had good results either, so all in all it has the makings of a competitive game and we have to take the right approach and get back to winning ways as quickly as possible. It’s a great environment to play in and hopefully we’ll get the win.”

A weak NI team was thrashed – with that man Robbie Keane scoring twice – in that game more than seven years ago, but McGinn is optimistic of a much better outcome this time around:

“It was a difficult night losing that match. I think Thursday will be different because there will be a bigger crowd and better atmosphere. And it will be good for us to show how we have progressed as a nation. We are used to going to these types of environments.”

Still, there’s talent in the home ranks, the Republic likely to include some players McGinn knows well. “I played with James McClean at Derry City. He was a young lad coming through. He was getting into the team when I was leaving.

“Seamus Coleman was always a player, when he was playing for Sligo [Rovers] that season, who I always came up against, which was good.

“When I signed for Celtic Seamus Coleman was actually there on trial and to think that Celtic didn’t sign him was obviously a massive disappointment for them when you look at the unbelievable career he has gone on to have at a top level with Everton.”

McGinn is hoping for a starting slot after starring in the unfortunate home defeat by Bosnia-Herzegovina before injury ruled him out of the return trip there and to Austria.

However, even with some attackers absent, he’s not taking a place in the team for granted: “The squad is very strong at the moment and Thursday is an opportunity for players to come in and stake a claim.

“To have the squad we have now without Ollie Norwood, Will Grigg, and Conor Washington is good going. This is probably the squad we will have for the next few years that will be challenging for the Euros and the World Cup.

“Performances have been good but you want to be winning games and we have to use Thursday as another opportunity to do well and go out and get a good result.”

The match Northern Ireland really must win is on Sunday, at home to Austria, although relegation from the second tier of the Uefa Nations League may already be assured if the Austrians avoid defeat at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina tomorrow night.

Michael O’Neill’s men have lost all three games so far, but arguably deserved at least five points based on their displays.

The visit of Austria to Belfast may be meaningless to the hosts when Sunday comes, but at the moment McGinn is thinking positively: “Usually in these double-headers if we get a positive result in the first match it rolls on to the next.

“I’m massively looking forward to it. I was hugely disappointed to miss the last two matches. I was delighted to get the nod for the Bosnia [home] game.

“Michael spoke to  me before the game and he said ‘Go out and play with freedom, enjoy yourself. You’re at a stage of your career where you have achieved a lot in international football, played and scored in a major tournament’. For him to say that was massive and it gave me confidence to go out and be free, get on the ball, and create chances.”

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