Paddy McNair has had mixed fortunes since making his debut for Louis van Gaal last season, where he has been put in decent displays on some occasions, then being taken off before the game has even reached half-time on others.
McNair ended his season on a high when helping United’s U-21 team win the league. Stephen Looney, Northern Football Correspondent of the Sunday World, Ireland’s leading Sunday newspaper, has discussed McNair’s role for his country.
How important is McNair to Northern Ireland?
While Paddy is an integral part of Michael O’Neill’s Euro 2016 squad, there is no doubt his best years in a Northern Ireland shirt lie ahead of him.
Northern Ireland are blessed with a surfeit of established Premier League centre-halves, with Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart and of course former Red Jonny Evans all coming off successful domestic campaigns.
McNair can play at centre-half, right back or in the shielding midfield role, and O’Neill has intimated that he sees Paddy in that midfield holding position in the long term.
Right now, ex-Fulham player Chris Baird is the international manager’s first choice to play in front of the back line, and while O’Neill has recently played McNair at right wing-back, it is likely his contribution in France will come from the bench.
That said, the 21-year-old has yet to put in a bad display in the green shirt, and both his manager and the fans have every faith in Paddy to do himself and the team proud whether he starts or comes off the bench.
How is his time at United viewed in Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland Reds were anxious when Paddy made his debut for United against West Ham in September 2014, as he was pitched in at the deep end due to an injury crisis. However, the young man from Ballyclare acquitted himself admirably and kept his place on merit, though criticism would come in December when Louis Van Gaal lashed him for a cavalier showing against Leicester.
The Dutchman then had to pull McNair out of the firing line against Southampton after a series of mistakes that could have had a damaging effect on his progress. But Paddy has the temperament and mental strength to overcome such setbacks, and while appearances for his club have been limited, his international career is burgeoning.
Indeed, there are some Reds in the province who feel Van Gaal might have turned to McNair as an option to bolster midfield in his two years at Old Trafford, but that ship has now sailed.
What will Mourinho make of McNair? Hard to know at this stage, though the Portuguese has been at pains to insist he will give young players a chance.
It could be said that McNair looks more confident and composed that Jonny Evans was at Old Trafford at the same age, he has a bright future in the game and we hope he gets a chance to express himself under Mourinho.
How well do you expect Northern Ireland to do in the Euros?
Northern Ireland fans arrived in France in their thousands, riding high on the crest of a wave after clinching qualification to our first major tournament final in thirty years.
The success is down to O’Neill, a very bright manager in the making, for he has turned a group of players low on confidence and belief into a team that – as fifth seeds – won their qualifying group ahead of Romania, Hungary, Finland and Greece.
The success is founded on meticulous preparation and continuity of personnel, and somewhat unbelievably Northern Ireland boast the best recent record going into these finals, have gone twelve games unbeaten.
So O’Neill has fashioned little Northern Ireland into a very respectable European force, not world beaters, but a team that few will take lightly in the Euro 2016 finals.
However, the boys in green are mixing with the big boys now, and face Poland and Ukraine in Nice and Lyon respectively before taking on World Champions Germany in Paris.
With the potential for three teams to qualify from Group C, there is real hope that Northern Ireland can break some delft in France, but it will be a very big ask.
It could come down to fine margins, an injury or a suspension to a key player perhaps, but most Northern Ireland fans are confident their team will not look out of place at the top table of European international football this summer.
I have long felt that, with a full squad, Northern Ireland can squeeze through to the next stage. We are all entitled to a dream, aren’t we?
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