Belfast Telegraph

Paddy McNair is in awe of boyhood Northern Ireland heroes Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes

By Steven Beacom

Paddy McNair used to cheer on Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes as a Northern Ireland supporter. Now he has to pinch himself when he plays alongside them.

And the way the Manchester United star has performed in recent friendly games, there is every chance he could start Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 opener against Poland in Nice on Sunday.

He has been impressing in the holding midfield role and on Saturday night in a 0-0 draw with Slovakia put in an adventurous shift at right wing-back.

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McNair may play like a seasoned international but he has only been around for 15 months, having made his debut last year at Hampden Park against Scotland.

While other players have been striving for decades to experience a major tournament with Northern Ireland, McNair has achieved it in double quick time.

"I have talked about that to players like Aaron Hughes, who has been around a long time. It's just very exciting," said McNair.

"When I was a little kid I remember saying to my dad that one day I'd want to play in a major tournament. He said to me that doing that playing for Northern Ireland would be pretty hard. But here we are, we've proved him wrong," added the boy from Ballyclare with a chuckle.

"I was a massive Northern Ireland fan growing up. My brother and I went to as many games as we could. We would go with friends and my dad, Alan. It was always a really big dream of mine to play for Northern Ireland.

"I used to love watching Steven Davis. Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird were playing too back then. There was that 'pinch me' moment when I started playing with them."

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There was a similar scenario in his club career when he made his debut under Louis van Gaal in a win over West Ham in 2014.

"I was going to Old Trafford when I was 12 and watching Wayne Rooney. Seven years later I was out there in front of 75,000 people playing with him. When you think about it like that it's pretty crazy," he recalled.

"That was another 'pinch me' moment. On my debut it was (Angel) Di Maria on the wing, (Robin) Van Persie and (Radamel) Falcao up front, with Wayne Rooney at No.10 and Juan Mata on the right, and I was centre-back with David de Gea behind me.

"Afterwards it hit me. At the time I was obviously nervous and didn't want to let anyone down, but thankfully it went well. I remember coming off the pitch and we'd won and Darren Fletcher came up to me and hugged me. In the changing room all the players were just really happy for me.

"I first went to United when I was 12 on trial and they were very good to me. I met Sir Alex Ferguson when I went to my first game aged 12.

"It was against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford and we won 4-1 and I met Ferguson before the game. I've still got the picture at my house of me and Fergie."

Expect McNair to be in the picture for Northern Ireland during Euro 2016.

Belfast Telegraph