Sammy McIlroy knows all about the pressures of breaking into a successful Manchester United team as a teenager and then having to strive to be good enough to stay there.
The last of the famous Busby Babes when he made his debut as a 17-year-old in late 1971, just over three years after the team had won the European Cup.
Jonny Evans story is similar. He was 19 when he first played for United, but it wasn’t until a year later than he really made the breakthrough, a matter of months after United had beaten Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final.
McIlroy spent 11 years at Old Trafford, making almost 350 league appearances and he expects Evans, now 25, to continue his steady rise and be an important player for both Northern Ireland and Manchester United in the years ahead.
“I was at the Manchester United v Real Madrid game last week and I met Jonny and had a chat with him afterwards,” said McIlroy.
“He was excited about the Northern Ireland games coming up and very enthusiastic.
“That was great for me to hear because he is a magnificent player and a key man for Northern Ireland.
“He is a lovely lad and it is great to see a young man from Northern Ireland doing very well at Manchester United.
“He has come in and been worthy of his place. In fact he’s given Sir Alex Ferguson a real problem with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic there, because those two are expected to start in front of him.
“He’s had a very good season so far and he’s got a good manager there who will encourage him and push him on to the next level.”
McIlroy won an FA Cup medal
with United in 1977 and then scored in the final two years later against Arsenal.
His 88th minute equaliser was quickly forgotten about as the Gunners scored an even later winner, but the match was memorable from a Northern Ireland point of view.
Arsenal had Pat Jennings, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson in their line-up, while Jimmy Nicholl joined McIlroy in the United side. Only three Northern Ireland internationals, Norman Whiteside, Lawrie Sanchez and Roy Carroll, have won the trophy since the 1970s and with United in the quarter-finals this season Evans is the best hope of becoming the fourth.
“We need to get that back,” said McIlroy.
“Billy Bingham was lucky during his time as manager in that he has a lot of big players playing at big clubs who were being successful.
“We had a few at Manchester United, with David McCreery there for a while too and the Arsenal lads.
“We were all playing at a decent level and that had a big impact when we came together in the international team.”
These days McIlroy is taking things easy. Since leaving Morcambe almost two years ago he has spent his time working for MUTV — Manchester United’s television channel — and he is also part of their match day hospitality team.
“I haven’t applied for a job since I left Morcambe and I’m happy doing what I am doing,” he said.