It used to be Keith Gillespie running with the ball that got the Windsor Park faithful on their feet. There’s a new maestro in town now.
Paddy McCourt’s the name on everyone’s lips after his sensational goalscoring display against the Faroe Islands on Wednesday night.
The 27-year-old Celtic star bewitched and bewildered the visiting defenders on his way to a stunning double in a 4-0 win which kept hopes of qualifying for the 2012 European Championship finals alive.
His first goal was good, his second great, as he glided effortlessly past opposition players before lobbing the goalkeeper with the accuracy of Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.
It was a gem, one of the finest individual goals witnessed in the long and proud history of the house of Windsor.
After the match, his team-mates and manager Nigel Worthington were waxing lyrical about the ‘entertainer’ in our national side.
And the Northern Ireland fans were drooling at his dazzling dribbling skills and ability to finish with aplomb.
Those who watched him as kid in Londonderry won’t have been surprised.
He was labelled the ‘Derry Pele’ and ‘Derry Diego’ when he was growing up.
Then he became the latest in a long list of those described as the ‘new George Best’ following a move to Rochdale.
On Wednesday, the Kop thought he was doing a decent impersonation of Lionel Messi.
Laid back McCourt enjoyed the comparison as the fans roared ‘Are you Messi in disguise?’ after that magical goal in the final minutes.
Leaving Windsor Park, their next question related to whether Paddy would be in the team for the crunch Euro qualifier against Serbia next month, given that Wednesday was his first competitive start and knowing that in the past Worthington had been loathe to use the lad seen as a luxury player from the first whistle.
The fans are desperate to see him kick-off in the showdown with Serbia, which will go a long way to deciding if Northern Ireland can finish in second spot in the group and claim a play-off place. And thankfully those wishes are going to be granted with the manager stating that he can’t drop Paddy now.
A place will be found for this Bhoy wonder, even with Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty likely to return to the side.
Former Manchester United and Newcastle United star, Northern Ireland wing hero and veteran of 86 caps, Gillespie was pleased to hear that.
“I would definitely start Paddy against Serbia,” says Gillespie, now operating as a midfield general with Longford Town in the League of Ireland.
“Nigel knows it would be very difficult to leave him out and the fans would be very upset.
“If you are picking players on performance he has to be in because he was head and shoulders above anyone else in the Faroes game.
“I know in the past Nigel hasn’t picked him because he didn’t feel he gave enough to the team, but he has the ability to change a game which is exactly what Northern Ireland needs.
“We have to go for the win against Serbia. We should have no fear against them and go for it and with Paddy in the side we’ll have a better chance.
“I actually think that Paddy, with all his ability and with how much the crowd love him, could be the man to take us all the way to the Euro finals.
“Kyle Lafferty is the number one striker now so if he’s fit for Serbia he will come in, but Paddy can play in behind him and create real danger.”
McCourt returned to the international scene in 2009 after winning his first cap seven years previously as a Rochdale player against Spain in a 5-0 Windsor drubbing. That night McCourt came on for Gillespie.
“Even then you could see Paddy had great talent,” added the ex-Glentoran ace.
“He’s a different player than me. I used to get the ball and knock it out of my feet and run on to it past defenders.
“Paddy is all about having very good close control of the ball and drawing defenders before going past them.
“His run leading to his second goal was a prime example of that.
“I have to say I got a real buzz watching him from start to finish.
“He was brilliant and showed everyone watching what he is capable of producing. If he can keep up that level of performance it is going to be great for Northern Ireland.”