Belfast Telegraph

I'll seize chance to become Northern Ireland's right-back, pledges versatile McNair

By Paul Ferguson

Versatile Paddy McNair is ready to embrace his new role as Northern Ireland's rampaging right wing-back having become accustomed to playing away from his favoured position for most of his career.

Ballyclare boy McNair views himself as a central midfielder and played in that role during Northern Ireland's Central America tour prior to the World Cup in Russia. Indeed, he was man of the match against Panama for his industrious and dominating performance alongside Jonny and Corry Evans.

But when he made the breakthrough as a talented teenager at Manchester United in 2014, then Red Devils boss Louis van Gaal selected him at centre-half and after leaving Old Trafford for Sunderland, he also played in defence.

With competition tight in Northern Ireland's midfield - Steven Davis, George Saville and Ollie Norwood currently occupy the positions in the middle of the park with Corry Evans in reserve - and boss Michael O'Neill looking to utilise a new high press style of play, McNair, who excelled in the right wing-back role during Northern Ireland's impressive 3-0 win over Israel last month, is relishing the chance to start his 22nd match for his country and be explosive once again down the flank against Austria tomorrow night.

Millwall's Conor McLaughlin was given the right-back shirt against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but McNair's performance against Israel has earned him the right to start in Vienna.

The 23-year-old said: "I enjoy playing right-back. If you asked me my preferred position that would be midfield, but with this new playing style I'm able to get forward from right-back and get involved with the attacking play.

"One of the reasons I like playing in midfield is that I can get in the box. Playing right-back, particularly in the last game, I was able to attack a lot. I really enjoyed it, and if I play there again hopefully I'll be able to keep doing that."

Northern Ireland are playing catch-up in this three-team Nations League following that opening defeat to Bosnia last month.

If the men in green are to make a serious challenge to top Group B3, with Bosnia already on six points, then victory at the Ernst Happel Stadium is essential. A win would also give O'Neill's men an excellent chance of finishing above Austria in the group, should Bosnia finish on top, as the bottom side are relegated to the third tier.

McNair said: "Our performance against Bosnia was brilliant, and we should have won the game, we were very unlucky.

"We have to go out and try and produce the same level of performance. Nine times out of 10 when you play that well you will win the game.

"If we play like we did against Bosnia, especially the first-half performance, we'll definitely get points on the board.

"But I don't think it would be the end of the world if we didn't get three points. If we want to finish top of the group though then I think we need at least four points out of these two games."

McNair, after Sunderland's relegation from the Championship last season, was the subject of a number of bids with Premier League outfit Brighton at one time favourites to land the Co Antrim lad.

But Middlesbrough, with the club having a return to the Premier League firmly in their sights, won the battle to sign McNair.

However, he's had to settle for a place on the bench for most of this season with new boy and international team-mate Saville being selected ahead of him in midfield. McNair now accepts that if he is to make an impact for his new club, then just like with Northern Ireland, he may have to settle for the right-back spot.

He admitted: "The game time at club level has been a little bit frustrating, but it's a long season in the Championship, and I know I will get my chance at some point.

"In a cup game I played the first half at right-back and the second in midfield.

"I've also played right wing-back before we switched to a flat back four, as well as right midfield.

"I think though if I'm going to cement a position at club level it will be right-back or midfield.

"These two games come at a good time for me because you want to keep your fitness levels up, and you do that by playing in games. So if I can get a couple of games here I can go back to club level raring to go."

Belfast Telegraph

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