Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Steven Beacom: Two terrific reasons to cheer for a Celtic player

Northern Ireland 4 Faroe Islands 0

Paddy McCourt. Pure genius. What a performance. What a goal. What a Bhoy. The Celtic star is the new darling of the Kop and rightly so.



Once upon a time Paddy's club manager Neil Lennon was shamefully booed by his own ‘fans’ at Windsor Park.

Last night for this particular Hoops hero it was cheers not jeers that echoed all around the ground in appreciation of his extraordinary talents.

The 27-year-old former Derry City star turned on the style in the 4-0 victory over the Faroes, scoring twice and climaxing a glittering performance with one of the most sublime individual strikes ever seen at Windsor Park.

Some might say it was only against the Faroes, a team made up of carpenters, students and one professional, but try telling that to those Northern Ireland supporters who by the end were chanting “Are you Messi in disguise?”

The goal really was that good, sending the Green and White Army home walking on air and still dreaming of reaching the 2012 European Championship finals. Long way to go yet, but let's enjoy this while we can and hail the character as well as class of McCourt.

And also give some credit to his team-mate Niall McGinn, whose wise introduction as a second half substitute by manager Nigel Worthington was a key moment in the game.

McGinn blotted his copybook with Northern Ireland fans at the Carling Nations Cup in May by declaring that he was a Republic of Ireland supporter.

He was probably a bit too honest for his own good but at least unlike others who grew up following the Republic, he's still playing for us.

Be glad of that because after receiving a welcoming roar from the Windsor faithful, he and his Parkhead pal ripped the Faroes to shreds with a little help from another Old Firm favourite Steve Davis, who himself netted a beauty.

During last season bullets were sent in the post to McCourt and McGinn as well as Lennon.

Both Paddy and Niall could have walked away from playing for Northern Ireland after being the victims of such a despicable act, but they decided to stick with our international side. Last night that loyalty was rewarded.

There was a buzz around the stadium every time McCourt, in his long awaited first competitive international start, got the ball.

He glided over the surface, drifting past defenders as if they weren't there, never more so than in the dying moments when he left four Faroes players in his wake before producing a magical left foot chip into the net. In that moment it really was like watching Brazil.

Minutes before McCourt had combined superbly with the impressive Jonny Evans to net his first international goal.

While Paddy's efforts were eye-catching, the most important goal of the night came from Rangers star Davis.

His superb right foot strike from distance from McGinn's intelligent assist eased the growing nerves inside Windsor when the Faroes were threatening to stun the home side.

An early and popular goal from Aaron Hughes — his first at this level 13 years after making his debut — had put Northern Ireland in control.

David Healy was unlucky to hit the post but Worthington's men failed to kick on from a great start. There was a period when Windsor was deathly silent, fearing the worst as Brian Kerr's side created and missed good openings.

Thankfully McGinn set up Davis and then McCourt's brilliance took over, to the relief of Worthington, under pressure before this fixture from frustrated fans after a run of just one win in 19 games.

Now we're up to third in the group table. Second place behind leaders Italy and a play-off spot is the target.

Ahead of the Faroes clash, I stated four wins from the last five games would definitely see us achieve that. It's one down and three to go.

I'm confident we'll beat Estonia home and away, which leaves the Windsor encounter with the Serbs in September as the defining match.

Kyle Lafferty and Chris Brunt will be back for that one.

Surely, though, after last night Paddy McCourt deserves to keep his place.

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