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Gareth McAuley has blazed a trail for new stars

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Gareth McAuley

Gareth McAuley

Darren Kidd

Gareth McAuley

Gareth McAuley is sure to enjoy his summer break.

He'll experience different emotions — excitement, anticipation and some nerves too — as he prepares to hit the big time in the Premier League after signing for West Bromich Albion.

McAuley has risen to the top flight of English football — regarded as one of, if not the best league in the world — through very much a non-traditional route.

Just seven years ago he was still an Irish League player before moving to Lincoln City, Leicester City and Ipswich Town before the Baggies came calling.

And as he prepares to lead a young and inexperienced Northern Ireland team into battle against the Republic of Ireland in the Carling Nations Cup tonight, McAuley has offered hope to the likes of Crusaders trio Colin Coates, Stuart Dallas and Jordan Owens, as well as Linfield midfielder Robert Garrett — who will start on the bench at the Aviva Stadium tonight — that they can still get to the top.

“I left the Irish League and progressed and worked hard and you get the rewards for that,” said McAuley.

“Sometimes you get a bit of luck and leaving on a free transfer helped too.

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“I've got there, I've now got to get into the team and proved that I can play there.

“I always believed and if you've got dreams and can push yourself forward then you can achieve.

“For the young lads from the Irish League that are in this squad, if they've got ambitions to move and can work hard the proof is there that you can get the rewards.

“Getting away from Coleraine and getting across was the first step, then it was getting the head down and working hard to keep improving.”

One man who already looks destined to make it big is Josh Carson.

The 17-year-old will make his international debut tonight and having seen the youngster burst onto the scene at Ipswich Town McAuley is expecting big things in the future from the Antrim lad.

“He's a lively little player. Quite direct, will run at people and likes to get on the ball,” added McAuley.

“He played the last eight games, scored three goals and that's not bad for a raw kid in the Championship.

“He’s got a lot of potential and he’s an exciting prospect, one for the future.

“He's a good lad, he's driven and he loves Northern Ireland, so it's good to have him in the squad.”


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