Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Stephen Craigan: Paddy McCourt needs first team football

Despite his wonderful skills Paddy McCourt has failed to secure a starting place at Celtic

The Derry Pele, the Derry Diego or just plain Paddy McCourt, whatever you want to call him there’s absolutely no doubt he’s one of the most talented players ever to wear the green of Northern Ireland.

Albeit he hasn’t wore it enough in many people’s eyes over the years and I know it’s a big claim from me but having trained with him, played with and against him, I believe my view is vindicated.

He glides past players, when he’s in possession you always feel like something is going to happen and for example last Wednesday night every time he got the ball the Azerbaijan players surrounded him in fear.

The question is why has he not played more for club or country?

There’s a myth that always surrounds Paddy regarding his general fitness and whether he can play 90 minutes or not.

Just because he doesn’t play regularly for Celtic, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s injured but in my eyes it certainly affects his ability to play 90 minutes.

No amount of training, practice games or even reserve games compensate for missing first team action.

The intensity, the pace of the game and the quality of opposition is hard to replicate. In the short term players can get away with missing games but Paddy has started just 17 games since he joined Celtic in 2008 and I think he’ll admit himself the move hasn’t worked out the way he hoped it would, especially on the playing side.

I’ve never had the chance to represent a club with the stature of Celtic and it must be a wrench to leave for players because the next step is naturally going to be down.

However while Paddy at 28 still has many good playing years ahead of him, I can’t help but think it’s time to move on and make a name for himself somewhere else, just look at Niall McGinn as an example.

The competition at Celtic is fierce with the likes of Kris Commons, James Forrest and Scott Brown vying for a place in the team along with Paddy and more often than not he’s the man left out.

So as Celtic thrive in all competitions and the players earn lots of plaudits Paddy must at times feel like a spare part.

Nothing beats the feeling of winning and having played your part in an important result, unfortunately Paddy hasn’t experienced that regularly enough and it must eat him up inside.

Is he good enough? Absolutely he is but for some reason Neil Lennon doesn’t feel the same and Paddy’s appearance record under him proves that.

It won’t be a personal slight on Lennon’s relationship with Paddy, it’s just managers prefer some players over others.

There has been talk of clubs being interested in Paddy with the potential of going on loan and also in permanent deals but for some reason nothing has materialised.

I know Lennon is wary of letting players go because he wants a strong squad and naturally is looking after Celtic and protecting their interests but that doesn’t help Paddy’s case.

Paddy now has to be selfish and put the rest of his career back on track.

He needs to start playing regular first team football and let fans around the country see the wonderful talent that he has on a regular basis.

Some say Paddy is a luxury player but what a luxury he would be to have in your team.

Entertainers are few and far between these days on the football pitch and there are few players I would pay to see but Paddy is one that I would put my hand in my pocket for, that's for sure!

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