Wednesday, 19 March 2014


By Andy Ritchie

NOW that their League Cup euphoria has been exhausted, fans of Aberdeen FC are perhaps entitled to ask: whatever happened to Niall McGinn?

The Northern Ireland forward was a bit of a performer last season, with 21 goals to his eternal credit. In reality, he was just about the Dons’ only goal-scoring option.

The difference this season has been next door to astounding. Yes, he’s managed to stockpile nine goals so far, but a study of their chronology makes for slightly more disturbing reading.

Three of these goals came early on in the campaign. Then he went 11 games firing blanks, before securing another six from eight attempts. Cue another serious famine: up until the League Cup Final, he had gone 14 domestic games without embarrassing the opposing goalkeeper.

Last Sunday, the chance to be a hero arrived all over again when, late on in normal time, he rounded an Inverness CT defender and discovered the goal virtually at his mercy. The ball, unfortunately, seemed to bobble and the chance was squandered.

A certain fairytale became a possible nightmare, and some people were left wondering whether his bubble, or bobble, had finally burst.

The bacon rations were only saved by the fact that the Dons clawed their way to victory on penalties in front of 43,000 of their magnificent fans. Significantly, McGinn was not one of the four penalty takers.

Now, I wouldn’t wish to sound like a wise man after the event, but I predicted to anyone who would listen last summer that Niall would find it difficult, if not damned impossible, to scale such goal-scoring heights again.

He has never been what I would consider to be a natural goal-scorer. He is sometimes a scorer of great goals, but not a great goal-scorer.

His career with Celtic and Brentford, however, has always suggested that he prefers to be out wide. And in recent games, I’ve noticed that he often retreats into areas 30 to 40 yards from goal. These can be comfort zones for some players, but they’re not the natural habitats of born strikers.

I can’t abide the term “one-season wonder” because it’s too trite and probably a bit insulting. But sometimes it conveys at least a little bit of the truth. Is it possibly applicable to McGinn? I would say that if he ever scores 21 goals again, most of them would have to be from the penalty spot.

Not that this somehow transforms him into an ordinary player. He is far from that

My point is that you must possess a certain mindset to be a scorer. Go back in history and you find it everywhere. Denis Law had that certain something. Joe Jordan, too. Andy Gray and Joe Harper - they were around when the gifts of arrogance, courage and confidence were handed out.

Coming up to date for a second, Billy Mackay has it - forget that missed penalty kick on Sunday, and Stevie Mays is also blessed with it. And I know I bloody well had it.

In my senior career, I received many compliments. Jimmy Homes, my colleague at Morton, used to say I was the coolest man in the penalty box. Dundee United manager Jim McLean said I came close to genius.

Seriously, though, I used to think about scoring goals before every game and I didn’t mind how they came about. I remember being farmed out to junior club Kirkintilloch Rob Roy at 16 from Celtic.

I was partnered by a guy called Jimmy Murphy, who’d scoot around like a burst hose pipe. He provided the sweat and the graft and all the activity that leads up to the scoring of goals.
At one point he put a cross into the box and there was I, standing with my back to the goal. It didn’t matter - the ball went into the net via my arse! Trying calling that cool!

I only played 17 times for Rob Roy before I was recalled to Celtic. But those were times I needed to score. Like against Vale of Leven. I was a boy - and we were facing a team of full grown men - yet I scored five times in a 7-2 victory.

Listen, I don’t know what I did for Jimmy Murphy, but I know what he did for me and I still appreciate it. Don’t know if his appreciation comes my way, mind. Maybe he’s sitting someone sticking pins in my doll right now!

From what I know of him, Niall is a nice guy. He’s not a problem player with an outsize ego. Goals or not, he makes valuable contributions to the team, with his link-up play and his passing, and as far as I know, his commitment to the cause is not in doubt.

But he’s sort of made a rod for his back in many ways. He doesn’t need to be a goal machine, but he’s got to get into that mindset of old, restore his confidence and get back to the basics of where he was when times were good. I’m sure his manager, Derek McInnes, will provide encouragement for him in this way.

So, too, will those magnificent fans. What a show they put on last Sunday. And I would hope that they turn out in massive numbers this weekend when Aberdeen face Kilmarnock. They should welcome their team home in style.

A return to McGinn goal-scoring form would suit them admirably. I imagine that the player longs to place the cherry back on his cake. I don’t know if what happened to him last season came as an almighty shock to him: a bit of a thunderbolt.

But I’d love to see more from him. And if he wants the best advice available about how to get himself back on that standard, then he needs to look no further than Joe Harper, a true Aberdeen legend.

How many goals did Wee Joe score in his career? Google tells me it was 232. And I tell you this: it was all about hard work.

He didn’t score as many as that by cracking jokes with centre-halves.

My best advice to Niall McGinn would be to sit down for half an hour with Wee Joe and soak up any advice he offers. If anyone can put him right, it’s Harper.

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