Belfast Telegraph

Ryan McLaughlin: I won't switch to Republic of Ireland

Pool starlet McLaughlin has pledged his commitment to green and white army

By Steven Beacom

After a year of ominous silence, Ryan McLaughlin faced the media as a Northern Ireland player in Montevideo and said the words every fan has been desperate for: "I'm here to stay".

In an instant he put to bed any lingering thoughts that he might be the next talented youngster to jump ship to the Republic of Ireland, following a well-worn path most recently taken by James McClean.

Liverpool full-back McLaughlin, who will surely make his debut against Uruguay on Saturday morning (12.30am), is fully committed to the Green and White Army and will be given the chance to stake his claim for a leading role in Euro 2016 qualification.

McLaughlin's is a curious case, feted years ago as Northern Ireland's next big thing by Kenny Dalglish but yet to make any real impact in a crowded Anfield scene.

That he had been part of a senior Northern Ireland squad before making Liverpool's bench says as much for Michael O'Neill's resources as anything else, but the process was halted abruptly last summer when he made himself unavailable for selection.

It seemed a bold move for the teenager to make, and raised inevitable speculation that he was harbouring hopes of a call from the FAI.

O'Neill insisted that was never the case and McLaughlin explained his reasons for holding back.

He did not blame those who mistrusted his motives, but left little doubt about his future.

"I'm a Catholic from Belfast and people think I probably supported the Republic as a kid so they then think there is something in it... maybe I'm not playing because I want to switch," he said.

"They have a right to think that because players have done it in the past, but I met Michael face-to-face and told him my reasons.

"I know supporters will be paranoid about it but I have no problem with that because I understand where they are coming from and I've no complaints about that.

"When previous international breaks were on, the Liverpool first team were having games behind closed doors. Brendan Rodgers was there and I thought it was a brilliant opportunity for me.

"I didn't think I would play much for Northern Ireland so I thought it was best to stay at Liverpool and concentrate on that.

"People will believe what they want to but that was the truth."

Northern Ireland have high hopes for McLaughlin, despite his senior career amounting to just nine games on loan at Barnsley last season.

But while there is no escaping the growing excitement around his potential, it is gratifying to hear a footballer who has not been sucked in by his own hype machine.

Asked about his own low profile as rumours swirled in the past year, he said: "I'm a nobody. I haven't done anything in the game to be coming out and making big statements so I just left it to whatever Michael O'Neill said.

"At the time I was 18 and didn't want to make any statements about the situation or myself in general. I think it would have been embarrassing for me to come out and make all sorts of comments.

"It wasn't a difficult situation for me because I was in England and didn't really see what people were saying. My mum and dad knew not to talk to me about it either because something like that can really mess with your head.

"Michael was brilliant though, he spoke to me man to man and I am delighted he has given me the opportunity to play for Northern Ireland.

"I am here to stay if I can perform well and I can't wait to get playing."

Once he returns to Liverpool from Barnsley, McLaughlin faces the unenviable task of making his way into the first team picture against the likes of Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Martin Kelly.

But with the support of compatriot Brendan Rodgers, and the added demands of Champions League football on the Reds squad, he feels he can make his mark.

"Liverpool are in so many competitions next season so hopefully I will get a chance because we will have to rotate.

"The manager has shown he will take a chance on young players. Look at how Jon Flanagan came out of the blue under Brendan and took his chance.

"I know where I want to be and that is Liverpool. I will set my goals high; I want to make a name for myself at Liverpool."

* Derby have confirmed the club have exercised the one-year options on the contracts of Jamie Ward and John Eustace.

Northern Ireland international Ward, who made 35 starts and scored seven goals as the Rams narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League, pulled out of the South American tour.

"They will be staying with us," said coach Paul Simpson. "They had options in their contracts and the manager (Steve McClaren) has made it clear he would like them around."

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