Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Where did it all go wrong for Paddy McCourt?

Windsor wonder: Paddy McCourt scores a stunning goal for Northern Ireland two years ago
Windsor wonder: Paddy McCourt scores a stunning goal for Northern Ireland two years ago

It was August 10, 2011 and Paddy McCourt was the toast of Windsor Park. As he walked off the pitch joyful Northern Ireland supporters in the Kop stand were chanting his name, celebrating a virtuoso performance in a European Championship qualifier.

McCourt, then playing for Celtic, had lit up the stadium with two majestic goals... the first finishing a move which he started, rifling home from close range, and the second, one of the best ever witnessed in the famous old ground.

The former Derry City player collected the ball just inside the opposition half and left three defenders in his wake with magical dribbling skills and impeccable close control before outfoxing another... then to cap it off he produced a stunning left foot chip over the bemused goalkeeper which floated into the net.

It may have been against the Faroe Islands, but no one cared. The goal was so gloriously good that every time you replayed it in your mind, it brought a smile to your face. The opposition might as well have been Brazil!

McCourt was 27 then. There was a sense that Paddy was about to hit his peak as a footballer. Good for Celtic. Great for Northern Ireland fans crying out for a new hero and matchwinner with David Healy no longer the force he was.

Almost exactly two years on, McCourt has been left out of the international squad for next week's World Cup qualifier at home to Russia and he doesn't have a club!

That balmy August night in Belfast was supposed to signal his big breakthrough for Celtic and Northern Ireland, but instead Paddy's career has gone backwards.

While Celtic, under Neil Lennon, enjoyed back to back titles and some outstanding Champions League nights over the past two seasons, McCourt only played bit parts for the Hoops and rarely got game time in crunch matches.

He played in 20 games last season, but 16 of those were as substitute and only completed 90 minutes on one occasion.

For Northern Ireland he's largely been a benchwarmer as well with manager Michael O'Neill unsure that his fitness would last for 45 minutes of action let alone a full game.

For a footballer with Paddy's God-given talent and his ability to entertain, that level of inactivity is a crying shame.

Niggly injuries hindered him at times and some would say McCourt's easy going attitude didn't help either.

Paddy's a lovely lad, but people who have known him for years say he is so laid back he really is horizontal! Quite simply maybe he just doesn't want it as much as others.

There's also the point that many coaches will tell you for all his ability he is a luxury player they can't afford to have on the pitch. Even Lionel Messi tracks back these days!

McCourt's current situation, having left Celtic and failed to reach agreement with interested English clubs such as Birmingham and Peterborough, is that he is training with struggling Hibs who may offer him a short term contract.

Depending on who you believe, a move in January to America with Los Angeles Galaxy, David Beckham's old club, may also be on the cards.

Whatever, for the man labelled the 'new George Best' as a kid at Rochdale and the 'Derry Pele' from his spell with his hometown club, Paddy, now 29, needs to get himself sorted quickly and show everyone that he still has the class to deliver.

Otherwise in a few years time when Paddy McCourt's name is mentioned people will be left thinking what might have been.

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