BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DARREN McGREGOR has tipped Stevie Mallan to emerge as the new John McGinn if Hibernian’s prize asset departs for Celtic.
The 22-year-old joined the capital club from Barnsley in a £175,000 deal last Friday and was afforded a cameo in Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 defeat against Blackburn, ironically replacing McGinn on the hour-mark.
Mallan has penned a four-year deal with the Easter Road outfit and McGregor – briefly his teammate at St Mirren – has no doubt that the young playmaker has the mettle, quality and determination to shine in Edinburgh.
And he is adamant that the rise of McGinn, who looks likely to leave for Celtic as a Scottish Cup winner with nine Scotland caps under his belt, should be an inspiration to the incoming youngster.
Celtic saw a £1.5 million bid for McGinn kicked out last week but remain committed to taking the player west.
McGregor said: “The hope is that we can turn Stevie [Mallan] into the next John McGinn, because we’re aware that there is the potential that John will move on and we’ll need someone as his replacement.
“The progress John has made should be motivation for any young player at Hibs. Look at John’s story – his application and his dedication show that if you work hard and are persistent then you can go to big clubs.
“Stevie was really young when I was at St Mirren, but I do remember him and Lewis Morgan as two young guys. What I really remember, though, was playing against him for Hibs when he was at St Mirren – and I always saw a self-confidence there.
“He would take free-kicks, demand the ball and every pass he tries to make is forward. He is always trying to break the lines.
“No disrespect to St Mirren, but this is a bigger club with a bigger support and expectations, and I think he’ll grow with that and lap it up.”
Mallan arrives following a campaign which saw Dylan McGeouch and Lewis Stevenson make their Scotland debuts and Paul Hanlon earn a maiden call-up to the senior squad on the back of their showing for Hibs.
Allied with McGinn establishing himself at the heart of the international side, McGregor sees no reason why Mallan – capped five times for the under-21s – should not nurse similarly lofty ambitions as he seeks to kick-start his career.
Mallan is returning north of the border with a point to prove following a miserable 12 months at Barnsley that saw him make just nine appearances after making the switch to Oakwell from St Mirren.
McGregor continued: “With the exposure of playing for Hibs, he can see that, after a good season, there is potential for him to break into the Scotland squad. I’m sure that will be ticking away in the back of his mind.
“I believe we’ve got a player with real quality and someone who is hungry, confident and ready to step up to the plate.
“I don’t know about Stevie Mallan’s situation at Barnsley, but if any player is given an opportunity to better themselves, then not one will say ‘I don’t think I’m good enough’. Everyone is always confident in going down and performing well.
“He only needs to look at the guys who have come here and done well to realise what a great platform this is. He will have the bit between his teeth and be looking at Hibs as a stepping stone, as a lot of players do.”
Mallan could make his competitive debut for the Hibees when their Europa League campaign kicks off against NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands on Thursday.
Assistant head coach Garry Parker made a trip to scout the part-timers in person as the capital club leave nothing to chance – and McGregor is approaching the task with similar professionalism.
“It will be a tough game. In Europe, there is always an element of the unknown. They are a part-time team from the Faroe Islands but you can’t take anything for granted.
“We’ve trained extremely hard. Pre-season has been difficult – as it should be – and we do feel good. But that will be measured on Thursday.
“I’d just be happy to win at home. Obviously, as a defender, to keep a clean sheet is what I look for. If we can do that, and score a couple of goals, then we’ll be in good stead to go through to the next stage.”