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Gillespie backs McNair to thrive

Paddy McNair has been backed to make an impression for Northern Ireland and Manchester United by former winger Keith Gillespie after his rapid ascent.

The 19-year-old defender from Ballyclare made his United debut against West Ham in September after just 11 under-21s appearances.

Gillespie, who believes Northern Ireland have a strong chance of automatic qualification for Euro 2016, hopes McNair seizes his opportunity after being called into Michael O'Neill's squad for the first time for Friday's clash in Romania.

Gillespie, who was speaking at the filming of the new Vauxhall Home Nations Football Show, told Press Association Sport: "He's still very young, still has a lot to learn, but he's done himself no harm in the (United) games that he's played so far.

"They've had injuries at the back and he's taken his chance.

"They've probably looked more solid in the games he's played than they have in the other games when they've been conceding goals.

"He's done very well. There's an opportunity for him there if he continues to progress the way he is."

McNair's rise has, in part, been as a result of Jonny Evans' ankle injury.

Gillespie believes O'Neill will find a way to accommodate Evans when the defender is fit.

The 39-year-old, who won 86 caps in a career which began at Old Trafford, added: "He's a very important player for us. He'll find a position for Jonny somewhere, whether he plays left-back or goes three at the back."

Northern Ireland have already beaten Hungary and Greece to top Group F by two points from Romania ahead of this week's Bucharest clash.

Gillespie is optimistic for the qualification campaign.

He said: "When the draw was made I thought we could sneak third place; now I feel as if we could definitely get one of those top two places (and automatic qualification).

"We're in an ideal position, three wins out of three. One thing that's really helped us is three of our first four games are away and they're our hardest games.

"To win our first three games has been an incredible start - Greece away, Hungary away.

"We're capable of beating anyone at home, so I really think we've a great chance.

"If we were to qualify, it would be 30 years since Mexico 86. It's a long time to wait for the people of Northern Ireland.

"We've got such great support. I know they'll be going in their thousands to France if we were to make it."

:: Check out the new Vauxhall Home Nations Football Show with Ian Wright, Keith Gillespie, Kevin Gallagher and Iwan Roberts go to www.YouTube.co.uk/VauxhallFootballTV

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