Why Paul Smyth's dream QPR debut is good news for everyone in the Irish League, explains Andy Waterworth
Paul Smyth's dream QPR debut is good news not only for the young star himself, but for the Irish League as a whole, according to his former Linfield strike partner Andy Waterworth.
Smyth earned his big-money move to the Championship at the end of the summer transfer window and wasted no time in getting his name into the headlines.
He pulled on his senior shirt for the first time on New Year's Day, handed his debut in the home game against Cardiff City.
With QPR enduring a tough period of just one win in 10 outings, a hero was required.
Cometh the hour, cometh Smyth - his 72nd minute effort proved the winner as QPR turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win.
The news was warmly welcomed throughout the Irish League, not least in Waterworth's front room.
He explained: "We knew in our WhatsApp group that he was going to start, and from then we were keeping track of how he was doing. With our game called off, I was glued to Soccer Saturday and I was excited when I heard Smyth had scored the equaliser. It turned out it was another Smith (Matt), but thankfully he got his goal.
"I knew he was going to score because that was his big chance and I know how good he is. We're all QPR fans at the minute. It's brilliant for us but more importantly, it's brilliant for him."
Waterworth knows more than most how good Smyth is and can become. The duo netted 28 goals between them during last season's Premiership campaign and Waterworth says there's one factor more than any other than can power him to success in England.
"Paul has that blistering pace you can't buy," he said. "Even against Celtic during the summer he was making an impact. Sometimes we forgot how young he was.
"He's done fantastically well, but it's a long journey and he'll be putting pressure on himself. I'm going to enjoy watching.
"He'll be getting so many messages at the minute. It's nice of people to do it but sometimes you just want to get your head down and get on with it."
Smyth, Waterworth says, isn't alone in the bracket of Irish League stars capable of a career abroad, and he says Smyth's strike will do other players' chances of a move a lot of good.
"We're delighted for the Irish League as a whole," he said. "Our league is a great springboard for players to move into the professional game.
"We have the likes of Gavin Whyte (Crusaders) and Mark Sykes and Bobby Burns (both Glenavon) playing senior football. If they were in England, they might still be in under-age football. The Irish League has been brilliant for these guys."
Now that Smyth has cracked the QPR first team, the next major milestone is a debut for Northern Ireland's senior side.
"I'm not going to tell Michael O'Neill who he should pick," said Waterworth. "He's a great manager. He brought Paul into training with the squad in France during the Euros so he knows all about him and his quality."
Linfield lost on Boxing Day to Glentoran, and a few days later a loss to new league leaders Crusaders. With the Blues now 17 points behind, how much of that is down to Smyth's departure?
Waterworth said: "He was Young Player of the Year and a key player. Any team losing someone like that, it's going to have an impact. There are other factors - we lost Ross Gaynor, I was injured and Jamie Mulgrew was injured. But Paul's move has been a massive contributor."
Smyth's next chance to impress could arrive on Saturday against MK Dons in the FA Cup, while Linfield begin their Irish Cup campaign against Glebe Rangers.