Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Powerhouse Paddy McNair has proved he can become Northern Ireland's main midfield man

Paddy McNair (left) was the hero for Northern Ireland on what had been a difficult night in Borisov.
Paddy McNair (left) was the hero for Northern Ireland on what had been a difficult night in Borisov.
Paddy McNair (left) was the hero for Northern Ireland on what had been a difficult night in Borisov earlier this month.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Football fans and the sport's media are fickle. Hands up, I'll be the first to admit it. But I'd like to preface what I'm about to write by saying that I've always been of this opinion.

The need to replace Steve Davis as Northern Ireland's captain fantastic and single-handed driving force has long been on the minds of Northern Ireland's supporters and, no doubt, their manager as well.

At 34, the Rangers midfielder is not going to last forever. Few would doubt he can play a leading role for his country at next year's Euro 2020 finals, should Northern Ireland get there.

But at the 2022 World Cup, Davis would be 37. While you'd fancy he'll still be in the panel due to his undoubted quality, some help in providing the spark in the engine-room would be greatly appreciated.

It may 'only' have been in Belarus, but 24-year-old Paddy McNair's performance on Tuesday evening was an indication that he could be the man for the job.

And not just because he scored the winning goal.

It was in a drab first half that McNair began to stand out from his team-mates. (Yes, I was saying it at the time - check our live blog if you don't believe me.)

When all around him seemed to be losing their heads and panicking in possession, it was the Ballyclare man that was strong enough to hold the ball in midfield and win the free-kick to relieve the pressure or find the out-ball.

He was at it in the second half as well, this time by nominating himself as the one to take the risks and break the lines when his side were otherwise limping towards a 0-0 draw. He was the man to take the defenders on, make the surging runs into the box and cause the real problems.

The ability to step up and do all that in what were proving difficult circumstances is a sign of a special player.

Another indication of an impending leading role is his sheer quality on the ball. Be it curling in troublesome set-pieces, delivering raking 'Holywood' passes to find a team-mate or jinking past a defender and smashing an unstoppable shot past a helpless goalkeeper, McNair proved he can do it.

There had been thoughts that his international future might lie at right-back, where he deputised last year.

But on Tuesday evening's showing, Paddy McNair has the mentality, the guts and the quality to haul Northern Ireland into the future from the middle of the park.

And again for clarity, it's not just a knee-jerk reaction to his first Northern Ireland goal.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


From Belfast Telegraph