Belfast Telegraph

Paddy McNair savours stunning Windsor Park debut

By Steven Beacom

As home debuts go, it could not have been any better. On Thursday night Manchester United's Paddy McNair played his first game at Windsor Park, not just as a senior international, but in his whole life.

And what a performance from the 20-year-old who over the past year has become the pride of Ballyclare.

On Thursday at Windsor Park with Conor McLaughlin suspended and Aaron Hughes injured, Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill opted to start McNair at right back and the youngster did not let him down with a composed display in the historic 3-1 victory over Greece which secured a place in next year's European Championship finals.

If McNair wasn't such an unassuming lad, he would think the international game was easy... first match at Windsor and he helps the team qualify for a major tournament!

"It was a crazy night. We just wanted to get the job done. I don't think it has sunk in that we have qualified but it is a brilliant feeling," he said.

"It was my very first game at Windsor Park and it was a great game to make my debut there. When Michael said I was starting I was really looking forward to it.

"It was our biggest game in 30 years and for it to be my first one at Windsor it was a special one to be involved in."

McNair is known as a centre back and can play holding midfield. Being asked to do a different job for Northern Ireland didn't bother him.

"I have played there a few times for United so I have had experience at right back and I was happy enough. Now I can't wait for the Euro finals. I'm looking forward to the draw in December. It is really exciting.

"Walking around the pitch after the game it was good to see all the fans so passionate about the team. It was great to make everyone so happy."

Asked who he would like in the draw, he answers Spain.

I ask him what about England?

"Let's get them in the later stages maybe and knock them out," he says with a chuckle adding that a 'few words would be exchanged' with English club-mates Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick if the Euro draw paired them together.

Boosted by United manager Louis van Gaal's confidence in him last season when the Dutchman threw him into the first team, McNair admits his aim is to play as many games for his club before next year's finals in France.

"I thought last season I would go out on loan but there were a lot of injuries and I was given my chance," said McNair, who received a congratulatory text from team-mate Ander Herrara on Thursday night.

"Now I just want to play as much as I can. I haven't played as much this season for United but I'm on the bench every week and it is good to be in the manager's plans.

"Hopefully in the coming months I'll get more games for United and Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph