JIM McINTYRE watched Jackson Irvine dominate future English Premier League superstar John McGinn as Ross County made history at Hampden – and knew he was destined for bigger and better things.
And it would not surprise him to see Irvine claim Betfred Cup glory once more with Hibs.
The towering Australian turned in a man of the match display as the Staggies defeated the Hibees 2-1 in the 2016 League Cup showpiece, securing the Highlanders’ first ever major national trophy.
It was the pinnacle of Irvine’s two-year stint in Dingwall, initially arriving on loan from Celtic in the summer of 2014 before making the move north permanently.
And McIntyre firmly believes he proved his top-level credentials by inspiring unfancied County to that stunning triumph, having gone toe-to-toe with an impressive Hibees midfield.
McIntyre recalled: “Jacko was huge for us that day. We actually matched up to Hibs in the middle of the pitch because we knew the talent they had in there.
“Looking back, Hibs had Liam Henderson, John McGinn – look at where he is now – and Kevin Thomson, with Marvin Bartley sitting in front of the defence. Jacko was absolutely superb against that calibre of player.
“His energy to make tackles, break forward, drive the game was incredible. He played a pivotal part in us lifting that trophy.
“It wasn’t a surprise to myself or Billy [Dodds, his assistant] that he then went down south and did so well.”
Irvine would join Burton Albion three months later in a £300,000 deal and, having notched 11 goals in his maiden season in English football, he landed a £2.5m switch to Hull City and became a Tigers mainstay.
Macca laughed: “The one thing I tried to impress on him was to add goals to his game – but it wasn’t until he got that move to Burton that he decided to listen and bang in the goals!”
Irvine did not play a competitive match for 10 MONTHS after a contract impasse at Hull ensured he did not feature after March last year, ultimately leaving the club in June.
The Covid crisis then ensured Irvine was searching for a new challenge in an unprecedented landscape.
And McIntyre is adamant Hibs have produced a laudable piece of opportunism.
He continued: “If we were in normal circumstances, he would have been snapped up and would not be a Hibs player. There’s no doubt in mind about that. I rate him that highly.
“So, it was a wee bit of a surprise to see Jacko come back up the road. I can understand when Jack Ross calls it ‘a coup’ because it’s an unbelievable signing.”
Four years on from lifting the same trophy AGAINST Hibs, Irvine will seek to fire the Easter Road outfit into the Betfred Cup final when they face St Johnstone at Hampden.
It is an occasion, McIntyre contends, that Irvine was made for.
He added: “He’s a typical Aussie – he’s got that confidence and swagger. And he’s got the experience of winning that trophy.
“So, he’ll not be overawed in the slightest. He believes in his own ability, believes he belongs on that sort of stage and will embrace the occasion.”
McIntyre has his doubts that Hibs’ link-up with Irvine will go any further than this summer, but still reckons the swoop was a no-brainer with Hibs still in two cup competitions and pursuing European football.
He added: “It’s a win-win situation. It will suit Hibs to get a top-quality players and it will suit him to get some big games under his belt.
“I’m sure Hibs will do all they can to try to keep him – but, honestly, if he performs as he can, then that will become very difficult due to the sheer spending power they have down south.
“He is a proven commodity down there.”