Niall McGinn is dreaming of playing in Champions League with the Dons
The Dons would have to win Premiership to play in the Champions League
Derek McInnes' men travel to Motherwell in the Premiership on Saturday
For Niall McGinn, playing in the Champions League would fulfil a boyhood dream. But it was an aspiration that remained agonisingly elusive during his three years as a Celtic player between 2009 and 2012.
Now, for that dream to become a reality, the Northern Irishman must help Aberdeen pip his former club to the title to secure the Dons’ first Scottish league crown since 1985.
Yet while McGinn is fully focused on the eight Premiership games that remain, he admits the thought of Champions League anthem Zadok the Priest blaring out across the Pittodrie public address system has crossed his mind on more than a few occasions.
‘Champions League nights at Aberdeen? I think it’s normal to think about things like that. It’s any young boy’s dream,’ said the 28-year-old.
‘Sitting in the house watching it, it’s also any professional’s dream to play in the Champions League. So if I ever got that opportunity it would be unbelievable. And I am sure all the other lads here would want that opportunity as well.
‘Just after I moved to Celtic, they played Arsenal in the tournament (in 2009) but I was left out of the squad. I was training with the first team at the time but I never got to travel to the game.
‘I played in the Europa League with Celtic a few times, and I’ve obviously played in the Europa League with Aberdeen, too, but I was never ever close to the Champions League nights at Celtic.
‘But even before I moved here to Aberdeen I had heard all about the big European nights at Pittodrie. To have that back again would be incredible. These are exciting times for the club. But there is long way to go.
‘We’ve said it loads of times that we are taking each game as it comes. We are not looking too far ahead. We are not looking at the next four or five games and thinking can we get nine, 12 or 15 points.
NIALL MCGINN ABERDEEN 2015/16
Total shots: 46
Shots on target: 19
‘We’re just ticking the games off one by one and thankfully it’s been working for us. Yes we’re close to Celtic and we want to stay close. Hopefully we can keep our momentum going. If we keep winning it will make it exciting between now and the end of the season.’
On Saturday, in the latest stage of their quest for the championship, Aberdeen visit a Motherwell side who have been ravaged by a virus in the build-up.
Talk of the Steelmen seeking a postponement eventually came to nothing after the majority of Mark McGhee’s squad reported for training yesterday but it’s a side issue which McGinn insists will not distract the Dons from the job in hand.
‘I’ve heard bits and bobs about Motherwell carrying illness but we will keep concentrating on ourselves and focusing on what is a difficult game on Saturday,’ he said.
‘We are on a winning streak and we are eager to keep that going.
‘If Motherwell have a few issues, so be it. But our manager has drilled into us that we are just focusing on Motherwell. And we are looking forward to it.’
Regardless of whether Aberdeen win a first title since 1985 or not, McGinn is in line to make history this summer.
ABERDEEN'S LAST THREE GAMES BEFORE CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFF
Sat Mar 19: Motherwell (A)
Sun Apr 3: Hamilton (H)
Fri Apr 8: Hearts (A)
He will jet out to France for Euro 2016 as part of the Northern Ireland team taking part in their first major tournament finals since 1986.
‘Things are going well at the moment,’ he acknowledged.
‘We are doing well in the league with Aberdeen and it’s exciting times for me personally, too, with two important warm-up games (against Wales and Slovenia) coming up for my country. And the national team manager (Michael O’Neill) has just signed a new deal, too.
‘It’s great to be recognised as an international footballer and I am looking forward to playing at a major tournament for the first time. I wasn’t even born the last time Northern Ireland qualified for a major tournament. It was actually the year before I was born. So getting to France has been unbelievable. It’s been a terrific journey to be part of.
‘I’ve been involved in a team with unbelievable team spirit, finishing top of our qualifying group and playing against some of the best players in the world. And that has given me confidence in so many ways. I’m coming to a pivotal part of my career. Maybe from the last 12 months to the next four of five years will be the peak time of my career.
‘But I’ve put the international stuff on the back burner in the past couple of months and I’m concentrating only on my club football. Aberdeen is my bread and butter. We are doing well and we are close to Celtic, which is great. We just want to keep that going.
‘But, yes, the next couple of months have the potential to be an exciting few months for me personally - and for Aberdeen and Northern Ireland.’
Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes spoke recently of booking a van to drive to France and cheer on McGinn at Euro 2016.
After his own call-up by the Republic of Ireland last week, however, Hayes could yet be flying over there as part of Martin O’Neill’s squad instead.
‘I’m delighted for Jonny,’ said McGinn.
‘He’s been outstanding this season. He’s had a couple of injuries but when he’s been in the team he has been outstanding. He has been on fire in a few games. He’s quick, he’s creating chances, and setting up goals. I’m buzzing for Jonny. Ireland have a big squad, I think of around 40 players, but Jonny has enough quality to do well.’
Motherwell have won four of their last five games but it remains to be seen how they fare on Saturday after a bug decimated a significant number of their squad in midweek.
Boss McGhee considered seeking a postponement if the situation worsened but the club Tweeted yesterday: ‘Majority of the squad are in to train this morning ahead of Saturday’s match. On that basis, the club have informed the SPFL there will be no requests made and tomorrow’s game is good to go.’