Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands: Paddy McCourt is our Messi, says Aaron

By Graham Luney

When Paddy McCourt was strutting his stuff for Derry City, the Brandywell faithful liked to call him ‘Derry’s Diego’.

Northern Ireland skipper Aaron Hughes was in no mood yesterday to put the Celtic winger in the same category as the Argentine legend Diego Maradona.

However, the Fulham centre-back was prepared to talk about the dazzling 27-year-old in the same breath as another of the game’s greats hailing from the South American country — Barcelona’s Lionel Messi!

McCourt is expected to start in Northern Ireland’s vital Euro 2012 qualifier against the Faroe Islands at Windsor Park tonight and he could provide the spark needed to keep the dream alive.

“I’ve always been impressed by Paddy, he’s so relaxed and makes things look so easy — it’s a big comparison when you look at players like George Best and (Lionel) Messi and then you look at Paddy and it’s the same, he makes it look so easy!” said Hughes.

“You scratch your head and think wow, he’s just got such a laid back manner and he can go from walking pace to exploding past someone in a second.

“His speed and ball control is fantastic and he brings so much quality to the side. Especially in the five a side! If you have him in your five-a-side team you’ve got a chance.

“We will be set up to have a go at the Faroes and do everything we need to win the game. The players know the system and what we need to do.”

Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington refused to name his starting eleven yesterday, but he did sing the praises of McCourt who should win his eighth cap.

“I’ve got to say that Paddy over the last two days in training has been very entertaining,” said Worthington. “The ability that he’s got is fantastic and we’ll see.”

While tonight’s game is a golden opportunity for McCourt to weave his magic, the stage is also set for David Healy to recapture his form on the international stage. Hughes knows the Rangers man is still a matchwinner and he hopes the Killyleagh man can turn back the clock with a vintage performance.

“David is always important for us,” he added. “He is a natural goalscorer and he doesn’t need two or three opportunities — he can do it in one.

“So if we can get the service to him he can score and he can create chances for himself. We are not relying just on him as always and so we are working on creating opportunities for others as well.”

After the 1-1 stalemate in Toftir, Hughes knows Brian Kerr’s men will be tough to break down at Windsor but pressure to get a result is nothing knew to the man who has won 76 caps.

“Every international you turn up to there’s pressure. At this level that’s just something that comes with it,” he saidd.

“The lads who are more experienced like myself, (David) Healy, (Chris) Bairdy or those who only have a handful of caps between them are used to it, we deal with it. We will be positive, we will go and try to win the game. Being the home team it’ll be up to us to go in and break them down.

“There’s a good incentive for us to win because it could put us in a great position in the group (third in qualifying Group C).

“It adds an extra importance to the game It’s not a revenge tie for us after the draw, it’s a way of adding three points to our tally.

“We have been in this position before.

“Our destiny’s still in our hands and we still have plenty to play for.”

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