Linfield boss Healy can help me live dream: Paul Smyth
Linfield v Cliftonville, Danske Bank Premiership, Windsor Park, Tonight, 7.45pm
Linfield's teenage sensation Paul Smyth says he's hungry to make it in the professional game and he believes his manager David Healy can make sure he realises his dream.
The 19-year-old produced a man of the match performance in last weekend's Irish Cup win at Crusaders, underlining his status as one of the most exciting young talents in Irish League football.
If the pacey winger keeps developing - and under Healy's watchful eye he certainly will - he's destined to compete on a bigger stage than the Danske Bank Premiership.
Injuries have held him back but when Smyth is in full flight, he's managed to dance past the meanest rearguards in local football.
As Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill stated last week, the path to full-time football is more difficult now for the most promising young talent in the Irish League but Healy is excited by Smyth's potential and determined to add a little polish to the diamond.
Smyth, who made his first team debut as a late substitute in a 1-0 home win against Newington in the County Antrim Shield in September, 2015, is now desperate to keep impressing in a Linfield jersey so he can make the leap of faith across the water.
In January last year he signed a contract extension, committing himself to the Blues until May 2019, but his natural ability may earn him a glamour move before then.
He was given a taste of the big time last summer when O'Neill invited him to join training with the squad during the Euro 2016 finals in France and a goal for the under 21s in 1-1 draw away to Ukraine in October last year offered further evidence of his finishing power.
With the world at his feet, Smyth can dare to dream but like any other gifted young player from these shores he needs a club to show faith in him.
But with Northern Ireland's record goalscorer Healy nurturing this talent, there must surely be exciting opportunities on the horizon.
"It's been a really good experience working with David," said Smyth ahead of his side's Premiership battle with Cliftonville at Windsor Park in front of the Sky Sports cameras tonight.
"He's brought me from the Swifts and allows me to thrive in the first team and he will not stand in my way if there's an opportunity to play across the water.
"It's every kids' target to do that and David has that experience himself as a player going across and playing for top clubs and then getting an incredible international career.
"He's just a great coach and pushing me on further than I thought possible.
"I'm just going to keep working hard and perhaps I will get a chance.
"I'm 20 in September, the youngest in the team but I don't care how big the players are I'm facing, I'm focused on doing the right thing for the team.
"If I see a seven foot defender I'll still get at him and not be afraid."
Healy will keep Smyth on the right path and the teenager knows he's in the perfect environment to fulfil his potential.
"I'm at a great club and want to win more trophies so you can only benefit from that professionalism and the high standards," added the teenager whose first Linfield goal came in the 2-1 Boxing Day 2015 win at the Oval.
"They take everything very seriously and it's a great club. I would encourage any young player to join the club's Academy, it taught me a lot and I pushed on with the Swifts.
"The Academy will push you on to better things as they are trying to do with me and I'm very grateful."
Linfield know there's no room for error now as they cling on to their title dream with Crusaders 10 points in front with seven games remaining.
But it's not in the club's nature to surrender and they will fight to the finish.
"We'll never give up on the title race, it's a two horse race but we'll always battle," added Smyth who won the penalty against Crusaders in the Irish Cup quarter-final when Billy Joe Burns chopped him down.
"I believe we'll challenge them all the way."
To do that Linfield must win all their matches and hope for a Crusaders collapse.