Paddy McCourt: The man who brought joy back to Northern Ireland
It’s one week since the virtuoso performance of Celtic’s Paddy McCourt at Windsor Park. Steven Beacom talks to those closest to him about our new laid-back sporting hero
One week ago, Northern Ireland fans made their journey to Windsor Park with a sense of fear and trepidation.
With a record of just one win in 19 games, many members of the Green and White Army were worried that poor run would continue, even with the opposition considered one of the weakest nations in the world.
Rangers ace Kyle Lafferty was among a number of strikers out injured and regular Premier League performer Chris Brunt was suspended.
Anything other than a win would have ended hopes of making the 2012 European Championship finals.
While everyone knew victory should have been a certainty, even allowing for the absentees, there was considerable tension in the south Belfast air approaching kick-off at Windsor.
Not least because the last time the Faroes were here in 1991 they stunned the home fans by securing a shock 1-1 draw. We needn’t have worried.
Help was at hand, in the shape of Paddy McCourt.
Oozing class, the 27-year-old Celtic star glided around the turf, creating, cajoling and climaxing a wonderful display with two high-quality goals.
The second, in particular, in the dying moments, was breathtaking.
McCourt collected the ball just inside the opposition half and then in that direct, delightful way of his started effortlessly running with the ball.
His control was mesmerising. He hypnotised the Faroes defenders and with every advancing step came more anticipation from a crowd already eating out of his hands.
The ball looked as if it was part of his right boot as he touched it nine times before the perfect tenth came courtesy of the left — a classy chip over the stranded goalkeeper.
It was 4-0 to Northern Ireland, the Euro dream still alive and a new national hero had emerged.
The papers, radio and television were full of it. Paddy wasn’t. All in a day’s work for the modest man from Londonderry.
He said he was pleased to give the fans something to smile about.
They are still smiling. Laughing out loud when they think about the wing wizard putting everyone at Windsor under his spell before performing magic that David Blaine would envy.
Goodness knows what his next trick will be when he lines up against Serbia at Windsor next month — as he surely must.
Remember the Faroes game was his first competitive start in an international, NINE years after making his Northerrn Ireland bow in a friendly against Spain.
Typically Paddy didn’t make too much of that. When it comes to football, he’s as cool as the Fonz, though his family could hardly contain their excitement as he turned on the style last week. Paddy’s older brother Harry was in France when the Faroes were put to the sword.
“I’ve been in France for the past few weeks and last Wednesday when the game was on I found an English pub to see if I could watch it,” said Harry, now on the board at Derry City, after years of scoring goals in the Irish League with Omagh Town, Ards and Cliftonville.
“With the riots in England, the game between England and Holland at Wembley was off, so I asked if I could watch the Northern Ireland game on Sky and they agreed.
“I was absolutely delighted to see Paddy do so well and score two brilliant goals.
“I was so proud of him and so were all the family. He’s been patient and waited for his chance at international level and now he has delivered. Hopefully he’ll stay in the team.”
Harry revealed that there was an extra reason why Paddy’s goals meant so much to the McCourts.
“It was my wee boy Ben’s 13th birthday last Wednesday and I texted Paddy to say about scoring for him as a present, so we’re claiming his first!”
While others may have gone out on the town celebrating their first international goals, there was no bubbly for the mercurial McCourt. Agent and friend Gerry Carlile says: “After the game, myself, Paddy, Niall McGinn and Sammy Clingan went back to my house in Belfast to watch the highlights on TV.
“The four of us just discussed the game and typically Paddy didn’t get too excited about his goals or performance. It’s not because he doesn’t care, it’s just that’s the type of person he is.
“Paddy’s quietly confident, with faith in his own ability, but he’s not one to go round shouting about it. He’s a very calm and laid-back guy.”
Since last week Liverpool have been linked with McCourt, but if he leaves Celtic, where he is hugely popular with the fans, a move to Blackpool is likely.
Wherever he goes though, Carlile, who went into partnership with McCourt earlier this year by taking over the Rock Bar on the Falls in west Belfast, says the player won’t forget his roots.
“Paddy’s proud to be from Derry and is very much a family man. He got married to Laura in the summer, has two great kids, and is very close to his family back home. He’s a genuinely good guy and immensely talented. It’s great that he has got the chance to show it for Northern Ireland.”
Five magic McCourt moments
December 3 2006: Paddy inspires Derry City to an epic 4-3 FAI Cup final victory over St Pats at Lansdowne Road. His defence-splitting pass to help Mark Farren make it 1-1 was simply astonishing.
September 23 2009: His first goal for Celtic — and what a goal, as the ‘Derry Pele’ drifted past five defenders before lobbing Falkirk keeper Robert Olejnik in a CIS Cup tie.
September 26 2009: Just three days after opening his Hoops account, McCourt scored another spectacular individual goal, similar to the previous one and this time against St Mirren. The strike was voted as SPL Goal of the Year on Sky Sports News.
September 11 2010: Paddy whacks home his first-ever goal at Celtic Park, skinning three Hearts defenders and chipping the keeper.
August 10 2011: McCourt lights up Windsor Park with a virtuoso display, bagging two goals against the Faroe Islands, the second of which, typically, was yet another run and lob.