Paddy McNair injury major blow to Northern Ireland's World Cup dream
Northern Ireland have been dealt a huge blow following the news that Paddy McNair will be sidelined until the end of the season.
The 21-year-old midfielder will endure months out of action after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, the same injury that saw Chris Brunt suffer the heartache of missing Euro 2016, and will not be operated on for over a week because of an existing open wound.
The Sunderland ace, who picked up the injury in his side's 3-0 win over Hull last weekend, is expected to be ruled out for Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in June, and will definitely miss the clash with Norway on March 26.
It has come at a devastating time for McNair, who was starting to make a meaningful impression in the north east and had been viewed to fill the void in midfield left by the only player to retire from the Northern Ireland team after the Euros, Chris Baird.
Black Cats boss David Moyes said: "He probably won't have his operation for over a week because he's got a cut on his knee and they can't operate while there is an open wound, so we have to wait.
"Paddy was starting to understand more about the club, the supporters and also the general game, so it's a real shame.
"He's really keen to do well and he works really hard at his game to try and improve, so we're incredibly disappointed because we want to try and build a young team going forward, and Paddy was part of that."
Meanwhile, a source at the club has spoken of Sunderland's sympathy for their young midfielder.
"It's very disappointing for Paddy and we all feel very sorry for him," a spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph.
"At this stage it's too early to confirm the nature of his rehabilitation process, or where he will do his recovery. He is facing a long time out. He has been given a few days to think things over."
McNair sustained the problem late in the first half of Saturday's win, yet he did not come off the field until the 88th minute.
He spoke confidently on how he planned to watch his career take off since signing a four-year deal worth £4.5million at the Stadium of Light after joining from Manchester United in August.
McNair was handed his big break at United under Louis van Gaal two seasons ago, yet had failed to feature in the side as much as he had hoped last year.
With Van Gaal keen to save his own skin at the time, he plumped for experience and McNair slid down the pecking order, but even when Jose Mourinho took over, McNair's fortunes looked no rosier.
The Special One texted the young ace to wish him luck at Euro 2016 and, after the finals in France, reluctantly agreed to let him leave Old Trafford.
"I think my best position is in midfield, although I have played in defence," McNair said shortly after signing for the Black Cats.
"I can't wait, it's a new chapter in my career and I'm looking forward to getting started. Last year I didn't play as much first-team football as I would have liked.
"I went away to the Euros and that was a fantastic experience, one I will never forget, but I knew I wanted first-team football this season. I played 24 times for Manchester United in the past two seasons, now I don't want to look back."