Tributes and best wishes are flowing in for Northern Ireland defender Conor McLaughlin after he announced his retirement at the tender age of 30.
The Belfast-born player’s most recent club stint was a short-term deal at Fleetwood Town which ended in January and now injury has brought the curtain down on his career.
The right-back earned 43 Northern Ireland caps and played for his country at the unforgettable Euro 2016 tournament as Michael O’Neill’s side made history.
Northern Ireland reached the last-16 in their first appearance at a European finals and it was only the country’s fourth outing in a major tournament.
McLaughlin explained the last 18 months have been an “extremely difficult time”.
Last month, he told Sunday Life Sport he was ready to quit football after a miserable time at Preston during the start of his career and talked about being set to return to education, before reigniting his love for the game at Fleetwood Town.
He thanked “everyone who has helped me along the way”, adding on social media: “Unfortunately after 12 years as a professional footballer I’ve been medically retired due to injury.
“The last 18 months or so has been an extremely difficult time, both physically and mentally.
“I’ve been lucky to have the time I’ve had in the game and thankful for every club that provided me with an opportunity.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. My family, who have been there through the good times and bad, moved all around the country and sacrificed a lot for me.
“I’ve met some amazing people through football and made some unbelievable memories. Looking forward to spending more time with my family now and seeing what life has in store next. Could be an announcement soon. Cheers, Conor.”
McLaughlin had spells at Shrewsbury Town, Millwall and Sunderland throughout his club career, with his time at Fleetwood Town between 2012 and 2017 representing the high point. He was released by Sunderland last summer after struggling to make a full recovery following hernia surgery before linking up with Fleetwood for a second time in October.
However, many will remember the west Belfast man for his remarkable performances in the green of Northern Ireland, after making a startling rise from Football League player to stepping out against Poland in the national team’s opening fixture of Euro 2016.
Brother Ryan, who was also capped five times for the national side himself, responded by posting: “Getting to live the dream is incredible but getting to do it with the bro
@ConorMcL_2 is even better. What a career you’ve had which us as a family are so proud of. Congratulations bro and enjoy retirement.”
Gary McAllister, Chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, said: “Best wishes for the future, Conor. You played a big part in delivering memories along the road to France that’ll stay with us Northern Ireland fans for a lifetime.”
Former Northern Ireland team-mate and Hearts frontman Liam Boyce added: “Good luck brother. Pleasure to have played with ya!!”
McLaughlin, a youth player at Linfield before moving to Preston North End in 2007, made his senior Northern Ireland debut in a 3-0 defeat away to Italy in October 2011. He won his last Northern Ireland cap in a friendly against the USA 13 months ago.
Northern Ireland fans were among supporters offering best wishes on Twitter, with one commenting: “Sorry to hear this, you were a great player for Northern Ireland and an integral part of our best period in 30 years. Good luck in whatever you have planned for the future.”