Belfast Telegraph

Luke McCullogh heading in right direction

New star McCullough has bright future

By Stuart McKinley

Luke McCullough is hoping that his career is only heading in one direction after his impressive international debut in Uruguay.

And his club, League One outfit Doncaster Rovers, could be about to do the same.

One Direction's Louis Tomlinson, who is a Rovers fan, has been linked with launching a takeover of the club, thanks to the millions he has made through his pop career.

McCullough, who showed that he has the x-factor after keeping Uruguay's £50m striker Edinson Cavani off the scoresheet in Northern Ireland's 1-0 defeat in Montevideo, rubbed shoulders with the 22-year-old boyband star after Tomlinson made a substitute appearance for the club's reserve team back in February, in aid of charity.

An extra 5,000 fans came through the gate at the Keepmoat Stadium on the night and now, one way or another, McCullough wants to move forward along with the club, with Tomlinson possibly steering the ship.

"Louis is from Doncaster, he's a nice quiet local lad and a fan of the club so it must have been a dream for him to play," said McCullough

"It was a strange atmosphere, thousands of young girls screaming through the match trying to get a glimpse of him.

"He was just helping the club, doing his bit for Donny, because he's a fan. It was good for the charity and good for Rovers too.

"It raised the profile of the club and the Twitter following has gone through the roof. It's definitely put us on the map a bit more."

McCullough's profile has risen in the last few days too. When Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill called him into the squad for the friendlies in Uruguay and Chile, McCullough was still a relative unknown, with just one under-19 cap and half a dozen under-21 appearances under his belt.

Now, after impressing in that 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, the 20-year-old is being tipped to have a long and successful international career.

The Portadown-born player, however, is largely oblivious to the praise that he has been receiving, as well as the fuss back in his home town, aside from some text messages from friends and it would be a major surprise if O'Neill doesn't have McCullough in the team for the second game of the tour, against Chile on Thursday morning (1am BST).

"I still haven't sat down and thought about it," he said.

"I wanted to treat it like any other game and that helped me I think.

"I'm concentrating now on Chile.

"When I get home at the end of the trip I'll have a bit of time to think about it, but for now it's about Chile and trying to get another positive performance.

"No-one from Portadown has played for Northern Ireland for a long time so it's a big deal for people back home.

"I don't pay much attention to it, though.

"I got a few texts, a bit of reaction on Twitter. Everyone's just happy for me."

McCullough's experiences in the summer of 2014 are already in stark contrast to 12 months ago.

His career hit a crossroads after he was released by Manchester United, but rather than looking back on that as a setback, McCullough is – with hindsight at least – looking upon his departure from Old Trafford as a positive.

He made 14 Championship appearances last season as Rovers were relegated and admits that had he still been in United's reserve team, the senior international call-up may not have come at this stage.

"Manchester United is one of the best places to ply your trade, but it is very difficult to break in with the resources they have and the players at their disposal," he said.

"I had a good three years there and it was a good schooling for me.

"I wouldn't say that it is impossible for youth players to break through into the first team, they've always been known for bringing young players through.

"It is very difficult and it is becoming more and more difficult, but they do still bring youth through if they have what it takes.

"I probably wouldn't have been here with Northern Ireland if I hadn't been playing in the Championship. Looking back it's been a good thing for me. It was good for me to get out."

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