Belfast Telegraph

Rejuvenated McLaughlin is determined to fire the Bannsiders to trophy glory

By Billy Weir

It's not only in England where rough diamonds are ready to be discovered if you look hard enough.

Jamie Vardy's much-heralded rise from non-league obscurity to England striker has been the fairytale story of the season so far.

Closer to home, one north Antrim striker is giving Vardy's rise a run for its money, with James McLaughlin the year's unlikeliest hero.

The Mosside-based forward bagged his 13th and 14th goals of the campaign as his two strikes saw off derby rivals Ballymena United and booked the Bannsiders a semi-final spot in the JBE League Cup.

The draw for the last four takes place after today's Danske Bank Premiership clash with Carrick Rangers, where Oran Kearney's men look to continue the tremendous roll they're on.

Much of that has been down to the unassuming 25-year-old McLaughlin, a man who has goals in his blood.

His prowess first brought him to senior level at Ballymena in Roy Walker's reign, but he failed to find his feet and returned to junior football.

Last season he scored an incredible 53 goals for Ballybogey to earn him an invite to Coleraine and he hasn't looked back since.

"I knew if I came in and worked hard as the manager asked that I would have a good chance of getting into the team," he said.

"I was playing for Ballybogey last season in the Coleraine Saturday Morning League and it was enjoyable too because there's a good bunch of lads there.

"I thought I might have one more chance but I didn't see it coming and then Oran came and asked if I would come and I grabbed it with both hands."

Grabbing a brace against their derby rivals will certainly endear him to the faithful around Ballycastle Road and in typical goal-getter fashion he's becoming greedy.

"It was fantastic to score two goals in my first derby and to get the boys into the semi-final," he added.

"That's my 13th and 14th. I had hoped for double figures but once I got past that I've had to reset my targets. I'll keep it to myself but I'll let you know when I get there.

"We know what we want. We want to win trophies and get as high in the league as possible."

That is music to Kearney's ears, who will continue to look at junior football to find some more gems.

Kearney said: "They do exist and I think we've proven that through the years. We gave Eoin Bradley his chance and we've had a good track record of finding the jewels and bringing them through.

"We have quite a few Ballymoney lads in the side now and at training the Derry boys are laughing and asking if we can bring in a translator.

"But we're getting more and more localised. It's about trying to sift through the local area and I don't believe we have missed anyone out there.

"It's credit to James and credit to nobody else, we dangled a carrot in front of him and he just grabbed it.

"We weighed the guys again on Friday night and he has nearly a stone and three-quarters off since May and most of that has come naturally through football, which means there's more chance of it staying off.

"I think with every game he looks more and more comfortable. Even the very first goal he scored for us against Glentoran, he shocked me in that he didn't have a big celebration.

"Even against Ballymena his celebrations weren't extreme. For me that just says there's an intrinsic part of him that knows he scores goals and he believes he will score goals.

"I see players like myself who when they scored it was a shock and they go mad and run about the place but James has always scored goals and he knows that.

Belfast Telegraph


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