Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Special night when Niall McGinn ripped up script

Niall McGinn enjoys flicking through the papers in Porto
Niall McGinn enjoys flicking through the papers in Porto

Niall McGinn picked up the Portuguese newspaper in Porto airport. A disconsolate Cristiano Ronaldo was on the front page but inside there were tales of how Northern Ireland kept the Real Madrid superstar at bay and how an amiable young man from Tyrone scored a blinding goal in front of 50,000 fans against one of the best teams on the planet.

It was one of those moments when he had to pinch himself.

This made it all seem real. The night before had not been a dream after all.

The texts were flying into his inbox quicker than Usain Bolt in an Olympic final, all congratulating the Aberdeen player on the greatest night of his footballing life.

McGinn, 25, has a wonderful back story — the type X-Factor bosses would give their right arm for.

From Donaghmore in Tyrone, as a youngster he was a fine GAA player for his home town team and was earmarked as one who would go on to play for Mickey Harte's county side.

He also happened to be pretty useful at football, making a name for himself first at Dungannon Swifts in the Irish League and then Derry City in the League of Ireland from where he made a big move to Celtic on the first day of 2009.

It was around that time McGinn burst on to the international scene full of pace and energy. He was seen as a wing man who would not have Northern Ireland followers pining for the days when Keith Gillespie raided the right flank.

Then came a period when a loss of form and injuries saw him left out of starting line-ups coinciding with him moving from Parkhead to Brentford.

He's back in Scotland now with Aberdeen and after returning to action recently he has been on fire for the Pittodrie outfit scoring three goals in three games.

Had players like Shane Ferguson and Chris Brunt been available to manager Michael O'Neill, McGinn probably would not have been selected for the 1-1 draw.

But when a door opens you have to go through it and that's exactly what he did on Tuesday night when he raced on to Kyle Lafferty's pass and calmly slotted the ball over the Portugal goalkeeper for his first international goal. It was a confident finish — the sort of effort you would have expected from Ronaldo at the other end.

McGinn said: “It was an unbelievable feeling when I saw the ball hit the net. I ran to the fans who had travelled over in their numbers, as they always do in every campaign. It was great to celebrate with them. I was over the moon.

“I was delighted to score but the whole team deserves to take a lot of credit, from Roy Carroll right through to Kyle Lafferty I thought we were brilliant.”

McGinn added: “Coming from a small village in County Tyrone, I admired players like Ronaldo and Nani so to have the chance to play against them is something else. When you are growing up you always dream about becoming a footballer, so when it happens I believe you have to make the most of it be that in international football or at club level and I want to keep doing that.”

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