THE notion that John McGinn would become the answer to Scotland’s goalscoring problems seemed so preposterous not so long ago that even precocious young children were making fun of him.

The Aston Villa midfielder sportingly agreed to make himself the butt of the jokes for a Scottish FA video interview last September in which a cheeky eight year-old boy got to ask the questions. Why McGinn had never scored for his country was one of the more stinging barbs. Out of the mouth of babes, eh?

Coincidentally or otherwise, the goals suddenly arrived in a torrent over the following few months. He broke his duck in the next game against Russia, then claimed a Hampden hat-trick versus San Marino. Another strike away to Cyprus and then a double against Kazakhstan saw his tally of international goals soar to seven in the space of just four matches.

Whenever Scotland’s Euro 2020 play-off against Israel takes place, all eyes will now be on McGinn to provide a goalscoring threat from an advanced midfield threat. And nobody would have thought that nine months ago.

“There was an interview with a boy called Shea - he was like a mini Ant & Dec rolled into one - on the SFA media feeds and before the Russia game he asked me why I’d never scored for Scotland,” said McGinn as he accepted the William Hill Scottish Football Writers' Association International Player Award.

“He’s a cheeky wee chap who definitely has a future in TV. His dad has mentioned it on Twitter a few times and claimed the credit for the goals that followed. 

“Maybe he’s right and I just wanted to prove him wrong! I’d been in good form for Aston Villa and it was something that had been bugging me for a long time. 

“I remember the friendly against Holland at Pittodrie and a couple of other games I’d had near misses. 

“So while the Russia result wasn’t what we wanted it was good to break my scoring duck and another few came after that which was brilliant.”

Having been asked on occasion to play further up the pitch from his traditional defensive midfield beat for Villa meant it was something he was familiar with when asked to do the same for his country.

“During the English Championship season, if games weren’t going to plan then [Villa manager] Dean Smith would tell me to go into a more advanced position so I wasn’t alien to it when Steve Clarke played me there,” explained McGinn. “It’s a position that suits me a bit more.

“In my early games for Scotland, while I felt I did okay in games, I was getting caught on the ball because you don’t get that time in international football. But the manager has used my attributes higher up the pitch to complement Naisy [Steven Naismith] at the time who everyone knows likes to drop deep and get involved in the play.

“The whole team sort of clicked in the last few games which is the frustrating thing as we were building a bit of momentum after such a tough period. Hopefully we can click the same when we return.

“And if the manager selects me to play in that position then I’ll be a lot more used to it now.”

While McGinn is content at Villa and preparing for the resumption of the Premier League season, big brother Stephen is on the move again having been released by St Mirren after a three-and-a-half year spell in which he helped save the team from relegation into the third tier and then captained them to promotion to the Premiership.

“It is never nice that situation and it doesn’t sit too well with me given what he’s done for St Mirren,” added John.

“I know football is like that and he had injuries. But I’ll take it back to when he joined [second time around in 2017]. St Mirren were rooted in the Championship, right up against it, and he had choices and a chance to go to the Premiership.

“I advised him to stay as high as he could. But he said ‘naw, I played with Jack Ross before, St Mirren gave me a chance, I’m going back there to help out and get my love for football back again’. And every St Mirren fan will tell you he single-handedly dragged them safe that season.

“Obviously, he’s hurting and we’re all hurting for him but I’m sure he’ll be back playing football soon and be proving everyone wrong.

“The main thing is that he’s still got the hunger to play. Stopping hasn’t even crossed his mind. I’m sure whoever gets him will be getting a top player with a lot of experience.”