STEPHEN McGinn Sr. was said to have been a decent footballer in his day but never made a career out of 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, 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 in action next weekend at diverse locations; Paul, the middle brother, for Chesterfield at home to Rochdale in League One, John, the youngest, could feature for Scotland in their World Cup qualifying tie against Slovenia, while Stephen, the eldest of the three, will lead out St Mirren for their Irn-Bru Cup final appearance against Dundee United.
If distance means it has been harder to follow Paul’s progress down south, the other two brothers will go and watch each other playing whenever the opportunity arises. And they are not slow to offer feedback either, both complimentary and critical.
“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. That’s all we every really did growing up.
“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.”
He is smiling when he says that he was “completely jealous” of John when he won the League Cup with St Mirren in 2013 and then the Scottish Cup with Hibernian 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,” offers Stephen. “I think he would definitely do well there. There are teams from England starting to show an interest in him and, although he’s loving it at Hibs, there will come a time when he’s going to be playing at a higher level. He’s an international footballer in the Championship which shows how highly Gordon Strachan thinks of 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 ever 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. The chance, though, to be reunited with manager Jack Ross – a former team-mate – and the lure of returning to a club he feels passionately about proved too strong to turn down.
“It was tough because of where St Mirren were in the league but I wouldn’t have come back for any other team,” he adds. “I did wonder if I was signing up for a sinking ship heading for relegation.
“But there were two reasons. Firstly, the manager is someone I trust. I thought highly of him before as a player and a team-mate, 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. Even earlier this season after Wycombe games I’d be checking for the St Mirren score and I’d be gutted if they had lost. The English guys around me couldn’t understand it.
“Having being part of a successful period for five years in my first spell and then John coming on the scene and winning the cup, I still feel a lot for the club. We weren’t boyhood St Mirren supporters but I’d say now I’m a St Mirren fan.
“I feel so invested in wanting to do well here, for the club, for this manager. St Mirren has never been in the third tier and I don’t want to play any part in that happening. We are starting to get some momentum going and we have shown we are a match for anyone in the league. I’d hate to get this far and not get it over the line. Instead I’d love to be remembered as the captain that led us to the great escape.”
McGinn was on the books but still waiting to make his debut when St Mirren last won the Challenge Cup in 2005, and had recently left for Watford when the Paisley side reached and lost the 2010 League Cup final to Rangers. “I remember playing Cardiff on the day of that [latter] final and I cost us a goal as my mind was elsewhere,” he recalls. “I was devastated I wasn’t playing in the final. And to watch it later and see the boys lose to nine men was a horrible feeling. I felt a bit guilty actually that I wasn’t still around to try help them.”
It is why he is treating this cup final appearance – 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.
“We’ve got a week to look forward to it now and we’ll try to enjoy being able to switch off from the pressures of the league for a short while. It’s a big thing for St Mirren. We’re struggling in the Championship so not in a position to look down our noses at anything.
“I remember being a young player when St Mirren last won this cup and how good a day it was for everyone involved. That team really kicked on after that and won the league. Hopefully it could do something similar for us if we were to win it. If I could finish the season with the cup and having stayed up these would be the proudest months of my career."
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