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Niall McGinn has new goal in mind after making the right call

McGinn gets his reward for turning down Harte and the bright lights of Croke Park

By Steven Beacom

It could have been so different for Niall McGinn.

Had he chosen another path in the crossroads of life, the Aberdeen winger would now be preparing for Tyrone's Ulster Championship semi-final with Cavan on June 19 in Clones.

Instead, he is in France focusing on making an impact in the Euro 2016 finals with Northern Ireland.

McGinn was the man who started Northern Ireland on the road to the nation's first European Championships when he equalised in the opening qualifying game in Hungary and then set up Kyle Lafferty for a late winner.

Michael O'Neill's side never looked back after that.

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At yesterday's press conference, 28-year-old McGinn allowed himself time to reflect on where he came from and talked about where he hopes to go in the tournament.

What has turned into a remarkable journey started out at his local GAA club in Donaghmore and Irish League side Dungannon Swifts.

He played for both - on one occasion on the same day - but he knew something had to give when League of Ireland outfit Derry City came looking for him in 2008.

He recalled: "I played a lot of Gaelic football when I was younger. Back then people wanted me to go down that route, but to become a professional footballer was a dream for me.

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"I have a couple of All-Ireland medals from vocational levels, played for Tyrone minors, Tyrone Under-21s and was part of the Tyrone seniors set-up.

"I played corner forward, a goalscorer and points scorer. I was nice and nippy.

"I was training five times a week. I remember playing for Dungannon at Linfield on Saturday at 3pm, then at 6pm I played for Donaghmore against Errigal Ciaran.

"It reached a stage where I had to make a decision to go with Derry City when they came in for me."

McGinn relays the story of how Tyrone's legendary manager Mickey Harte tried to persuade him to play on a historic night for the county.

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"When I was coming to the decision between Tyrone seniors and Derry City, Mickey Harte, the Tyrone manager, was constantly phoning me to play for Tyrone," he said.

"It was actually the opening of the lights at Croke Park - Tyrone, my county, played Dublin. At the end of most of the conversations he was saying 'just remember here, you've a chance to play in front of 80,000 people'.

"That was biting me in the ear a little bit. To get that opportunity, 80,000 at Croke Park, under the lights, that would have been unbelievable for me.

"If I'd said yes, it was a few weeks later. I signed for Derry City and it moved on quickly.

"I was 17 or 18, and doing my studies at the time. It was a difficult decision but I chose the right road."

Ahead of the Euros McGinn has had good luck messages from all of his old GAA and football teams, which he greatly appreciates.

What he wants to do now, if given the chance, is deliver performances in France that make people sit up and take notice like when he scored his first Northern Ireland goal in a 1-1 draw in Portugal, when Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be the hero on the occasion of his 100th international appearance.

Lately, McGinn has had to settle for substitute appearances including an inpressive one in the 3-0 win over Belarus last month.

"In the qualifying campaign I'd the most assists in the squad, which showed me I can make an impact at any time when I'm called upon," said McGinn, who left Derry for Celtic before ending up Aberdeen via a loan spell at Brentford.

"Maybe it's been frustrating of late not playing but the formation has worked well for us.

"Looking back to the Belarus game last month I'm just happy I got a good 20-25 minutes to show what I can do.

"Thankfully I got on a ball a few times and help set up our third goal, which is good for me. I'll keep working hard in training and if called upon, I'll be more than ready."

McGinn, whose mum Miriam and dad Paul will be at the Euro 2016 finals, added: "I'd love to get a chance and replicate what I did when I scored my first international goal.

"That was on a big stage as it was Ronaldo's 100th cap for Portugal and there were 50,000 people there in Porto. It was pretty incredible.

"I've scored a few now and a big target for me is to get my first goal at Windsor Park. Another would be to score in a major international tournament. That would be unbelievable."

N Ireland

Poland

Euro 2016 Group C:

Nice, Sunday, 5.00pm

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