Belfast Telegraph

McCourt seeking manager O'Neill's blessing for Hampden

By Steven Beacom

Paddy McCourt has started a new love affair... with Notts County fans the latest to fall under the wizard's spell.

The gifted 31-year-old wants the affection to continue tonight when his new club travel to Colchester for a vital League One encounter.

The Londonderry native will also hope Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill takes notice as he bids to fight his way into the international reckoning ahead of a friendly in Scotland and the Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Finland later this month.

McCourt joined County on loan until the end of the season from Brighton last month and made his debut on Saturday for the Nottingham outfit in their 1-0 defeat to Port Vale.

According to Magpies boss Shaun Derry, despite the loss, McCourt, whose skills have hypnotised Derry City, Celtic, Barnsley and Northern Ireland supporters at various times over the last decade, was sensational.

"He is a very good player and, at times, I thought he was on a different page to the rest," said Derry.

"The longer he is here with us, the longer we get to know him and we can get to understand him better. He is great on the eye, but he also has that final killer ball.

"I thought he was outstanding in the first half and he showed glimpses of it again in the second half.

"He makes things happen. He lifts people off their feet and I felt that, given his performance, he didn't deserve to be on the losing side."

Derry will need more inspiration from McCourt with Notts County in the middle of an alarming slide down the table.

In contention for promotion earlier this season, with Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll playing a significant role, County have lost NINE of their last 12 games and now find themselves just three points above the drop zone prior to the clash with Colchester, who are in relegation trouble themselves.

McCourt last played for Northern Ireland in October, when the Kop at Windsor Park called for him to come off the bench during the comfortable 2-0 win over the Faroe Islands. O'Neill gave the crowd their wish, but the ex-Parkhead star struggled to make an impact.

Ahead of the forthcoming double header with Scotland (March 25) and Finland (March 29), McCourt could do with producing more eye catching displays at club level before O'Neill reveals his squad next week.

McCourt would love to be involved and would relish the chance to turn on his own brand of stylish football at Hampden against some of his old Celtic team-mates, who are well on their way to another Scottish Premiership title after beating closest challengers Aberdeen 4-0 on Sunday.

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