McGinn aims to end 19 years of Derry exclusion
DERRY CITY fans are usually more interested in international matches that take place in Dublin than Belfast, as there's little love for the team they call 'Norn Iron' among the population and the football community in the North's second city.
But some Derry supporters will be switching their attention away from Croke Park to focus on Windsor Park next week as Derry City man Niall McGinn, who was a part-time soccer player doubling up as an U-21 Gaelic footballer in his native Tyrone only 12 months ago, could make the kind of history that Derry fans have dreamed of.
Not since Liam Coyle played as a late sub for Northern Ireland against Chile 19 years ago has a player from Derry City worn the green shirt of Northern Ireland. But McGinn has a chance to change that -- his form with Derry this season, since his move from Dungannon Swifts, earning him a call-up from Nigel Worthington for the friendly with Hungary on Wednesday.
Derry people have long complained about the exclusion of players, not just Derry City footballers but Derry-born players, from the North's senior side as John O'Neill, a hero from Billy Bingham's side of the '80s, was the last man from Foyleside to make a real impact.
"Derry City has been 80 years in existence, but apart from Jimmy Kelly, who played for the North and the Republic in the 1930s, and Liam Coyle 20 years ago, no one has been picked from Derry City," says Derry boss Stephen Kenny.
"It's the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland, every other club in the North had players capped, but no one from Derry.
"He might not win a cap next week, he may only come in and train, but Niall has come a long way in a short time and he still has a lot of improving to do.
"He's a very modest guy, very popular. He's got great pace and has lit up the place since we got him. We had to fill a void when we lost Paddy McCourt to Celtic and Niall has done that.
"I know that Niall has talent, I have managed international players from seven or eight countries, from Barbados to the Ivory Coast to Ireland and Scotland -- I had three Scottish internationals play for me at one stage, and Niall has the potential to do a lot in the game.
"But he needs time to develop. He's only had a season in the League of Ireland -- before that no one knew who he was.
"He is devastating. Full-backs don't want to mark him because he's so hard to play against. Wide players can have tricks and skill, but defenders hate playing against someone who has lighting pace.
"He has nine goals, which is pretty good for his first season. He has been tired lately as he had no break, he played for Dungannon and then came straight into the season with us, so he needs a rest," added Kenny.
The form of McGinn has attracted cross-channel interest, with Chelsea one of a dozen overseas outfits to check him out.
The sale of Paddy McCourt to Celtic earlier this year eased Derry City's money worries and there are fears that the club may have to cash in again and sell McGinn.
"There is a lot of interest in Niall. We have seen Conor Sammon and Paddy McCourt do well and play in the SPL this season since they left Derry, but I don't want Niall, or anyone, to leave," says Kenny.
"The club will make a decision if and when any offers come in, but I am trying to build a side, not sell players, and you can't build a good side if you keep selling your players."
If McGinn does play against Hungary next week it will make it harder to keep him at the Brandywell, but it will also be an honour for the club. Yet fans hope he's treated better than the last man from Derry City to play for the North at Windsor Park, as Liam Coyle found out when he played against Chile on his first and last international appearance -- there's a long-standing belief that Billy Bingham only handed the cap to Coyle to prevent Coyle, at the time a target for major clubs like Manchester United, Celtic and Benfica, from defecting to Jack Charlton's Republic.
"While standing for the English national anthem, a section of the supporters were giving me dogs abuse, calling me a Provo and shouting 'Go back to Derry, you Fenian scum'," Coyle recalled.
"But I never regretted playing for Northern Ireland."