From humble beginnings, Alan McDonald became a national hero.
He was born and grew up in Rathcoole — but only someone of McDonald’s determination, spirit and steel could have seen him construct a pathway from there to representing his country at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Born on October 12, 1963, the former Rathcoole Primary School and Rathcoole Secondary School pupil began to emerge as a commanding centre-half and his talent was recognised by schoolboy international honours and Victory Shield success.
A lot of players flicker on the international stage and slowly fade away but McDonald was made of sterner stuff.
Queen’s Park Rangers were quick to spot the talents of a teenager determined to carve out a professional career in the game and a love affair with the London club began in 1981 and lasted until 1997.
He man known affectionately as ‘Big Mac’ went on to make more than 400 appearances for the R’s, where his legendary status lives on.
But Alan had to earn respect at QPR and his first league experience came on loan at Charlton Athletic. He went to Swindon Town on a free transfer in 1997, making 36 appearances but Loftus Road always held onto his heart. He reached the final of the League Cup with the Hoops in 1986, losing 3-0 to Oxford United, while the club's best finish came in 1993, when they ended in fifth place in the Premiership.
At Queen’s Park Rangers he wore the captain’s armband and was loved and adored. It was the same story at international level. McDonald made 52 appearances for his country, scoring three goals and wearing the captain’s armband with immense pride.
In this era of players needing a break and not supporting friendly fixtures, ‘Big Mac’ is remembered as one player who would never turn down the dream opportunity to wear the Northern Ireland jersey and play with pride and passion at Windsor Park. He made it all the way to the 1986 World Cup, his post-match interview after qualification was sealed with a draw against England at Wembley going down in folklore.
The north-Belfast man always held a desire to give something back to the game and a coaching career developed.
He managed Glentoran from June 2007 until his resignation at the end of February 2010 but, before then, he was a coach under Paul Millar and he had also coached the Northern Ireland Under-21 side.
Under his command, the Glens won the County Antrim Shield in 2007 and reached the final of the Setanta Cup but his crowning moment was guiding the club to the league title in 2009.
The following year he resigned in the face of growing criticism from the fans but his appetite for the game returned and he applied for the Ballymena United post after Roy Walker’s departure last season.
On Saturday morning McDonald collapsed while playing golf at Temple’s Captain’s Day.
The close knit football community in Northern Ireland has been left stunned.