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John McGinn’s rise from small lightweight hopeful to Aston Villa heavyweight

John McGinn’s wonder goal for Scotland may have left fans gasping but David Longwell wasn’t surprised.

The youth development coach has known McGinn since the midfielder was just aged seven at St Mirren.

The compatriots have stayed in touch with the Aston Villa star even sending Longwell a Scotland shirt out of the blue last year.

Longwell helped nurture McGinn as the midfielder worked his way up to make nearly 100 appearances for St Mirren.

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He recalls a determined youngster who was small in stature but with a huge heart.

That determination was evident in the international break when the 32-cap lynchpin started all three games.

John McGinn has been a great catch for Aston Villa at just £3million with four goals and seven assists in 55 Premier League appearances

His contribution to Scotland’s World Cup qualifying bid, included a memorable late equaliser against Austria with a fabulous overhead kick and a brace versus the Faroe Islands.

The star,26, has emerged as a vital performer for both Premier League Aston Villa and Scotland after helping keep Dean Smith’s men up last term before steering his nation to this summer’s rescheduled Euros via the play-offs.

Longwell,46, reflected: “It is incredible to see boys progress from a small provincial club like St Mirren to playing at the Premier League or the highest level at the European Championships.

“I had John since he was seven.

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“He is a strong character.

“When he was younger it took him a long time to grow.

“He was small and his body was growing at different stages.

“It was tough for him to try and deal with that.

John McGinn now has 32 caps for Scotland and is a key player for them going into this summer’s Euros

“But I think it shows how strong a character he is that he has come through and just kept working.

“He is great type and he plays the game with a hunger and a desire.

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“He is a great example to anybody.

“The biggest credit to him is he has never changed and he is still the same humble young man he has always been.

“He even sent me a Scotland top last year out of the blue.

“We have never asked for anything.

“It epitomises who he is as a person and he comes from a great family.

“Those values he has been given have taken him through his whole life and he still has them to this day.”

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Longwell has followed McGinn’s career closely as he moved to Hibernian in 2015 and then Villa in 2018 for a bargain £3million.

Former St Mirren academy coach David Longwell also developed Norwich midfielder Kenny McLean

His unusual ‘Meatball’ nickname has accompanied him too after he acquired it following a drastic crew cut as a teenager.

Longwell, who now coaches at Shrewsbury after working in the MLS, added: “In football people always have nickname and that was his.

“A lot of guys would take offence to that but he thought it was funny.

“He did go for the skinhead which John admits himself didn’t suit him.”

Longwell’s only tinge of regret is McGinn is competing for a similar spot in the international side with fellow left-footer Kenny McClean, who also came through at St Mirren before moving to Aberdeen and then Norwich.

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McGinn was subbed against Israel on Sunday night when McClean came on for him.

Longwell added: “Kenny I picked up when he was 14-15.

“Both of them left-footers so it is difficult for them both to start.

“The Scottish national team has an over-indulgence of left-footed players, I don’t know why.

“When I was at St Mirren we had so many left-footers it is bizarre.

“Both real talents and good types.

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“I was going to say good kids but they are young men now.

“They have done really well. It is great to see.

“St Mirren have a lot of pride in how well they have developed.

“There is also a lot of players after them as well.”

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