| 2.3°C Belfast

How Spurs let McGinn slip through net

Niall McGinn

Pat Jennings was never a man to let anything slip through his fingers during his playing career.

Even on his record 119th appearance for Northern Ireland on his 41st birthday it took three excellent strikes from the mighty Brazil to beat him.

Had Jennings’ timing been a little bit better in more recent times, however, it could have been the Premier League rather than Parkhead for Northern Ireland winger Niall McGinn.

McGinn scored his third goal of the season on Tuesday night, the only goal of the game as the Hoops saw off Morton in the Scottish Cup and that should be enough to keep him in the team for Saturday’s trip to St Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

That strike came just 24 hours after the Donaghmore man was presented with the George Best Breakthrough Award at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards dinner in Belfast, with Jennings — who made his Northern Ireland debut in the same game as Best, against Wales back in 1964 — handing over the prize.

It was a fitting reward for McGinn, who has sparkled in recent months in both the green and white of Celtic and his country.

And to think that just over two years ago he was still playing part-time football with Dungannon Swifts before a brief 12-month stay at Derry City on the way to joining the club he supported as a boy last January.

Had Jennings — who is on the staff at his old club Tottenham Hotspur — lifted the phone a little earlier though it could have been London rather than Glasgow for the flying 22-year-old.

“I would be in regular contact with Joe McAree down at Dungannon as we’ve been friends for a long time,” revealed Jennings.

“Occasionally I give him a call to see if there are any players around who might be good enough to move across the water.

“I remember calling Joe towards the end of 2008 and asking him if there was anyone about.

“He said they’d let one go to Derry City. An absolute flying machine who he thought was a young star in the making with a big future ahead of him. A lad called Niall McGinn.

“I went back to Harry Redknapp, asked who he had watching players in Ireland, gave him the lads name and told him to get someone along to watch Derry City.

“A few days later he rang me to say that the season in the League of Ireland had just finished, so I told him to get them watched as soon as the season started again, but a couple of weeks later I heard that Niall had signed for Celtic, so you could say that Spurs missed out.”

McGinn’s pace catches the eye, but since the start of the season he has shown his ability to hurt teams as his final ball has improved and he’s also displayed a finishing touch himself.

Belfast Telegraph