Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

McCullough impresses O'Neill

Doncaster defender Luke McCullough gave Northern Ireland hope for the future with a highly promising debut against Uruguay on Friday night.

The 20-year-old was promoted to Michael O'Neill's senior squad for the first time for the tour of South America despite playing just 15 times last season for a Doncaster side that was relegated from the SkyBet Championship.

And, with fellow centre-backs Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Alex Bruce and Craig Cathcart all absent from the trip, he found himself thrust into the starting XI in the 1-0 defeat, lining up against Paris St Germain's Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.

The former Manchester United trainee performed with unexpected maturity in Montevideo's packed Estadio Centenario, despite being unable to prevent Christian Stuani winning it for the hosts.

Manager Michael O'Neill was full of praise for the new recruit, one of three debutants on the night alongside substitutes Paul Paton and Ryan McLaughlin.

"We were asking a boy to do a man's job in front of 60,000 people against a team who are highly fancied to do well at the World Cup," he said.

"He played as if he'd played in that situation throughout his career and he hasn't, he's played about a dozen times for Doncaster.

"Against that level of opposition - Cavani and Forlan - he was fantastic. A couple of the older lads, Chris Baird and Aaron Hughes, were fantastic in beside him and Roy Carroll behind him, but it really was a high level performance.

"Luke is very good positionally, has good self assurance and uses he ball well."

Captain Steven Davis was equally complimentary, making a point of congratulating his team-mate at full-time.

"I was delighted with Luke. I went to see him after the game and said 'well done on a great debut'," added the Southampton midfielder.

"It will give Michael something to think about in the future if he can put in performances like that in the future."

McCullough will face a tough task dislodging seasoned heads like Evans, McAuley and Hughes when all are fit and available, particularly if he is playing his trade in the third tier, but he has got the feel for international football and does not want to let it go.

"That's the biggest crowd and the best atmosphere I've been part of. it gives you the bug for it, big time," said the former Manchester United trainee.

"It definitely gives you a taste for more.

"Now that I've won my first cap I'm hoping it's the first of many. I want to be a regular international.

"The lads beside me, Chris and Aaron, are both quite senior and there's a lot of caps there so they talked me through the game and helped me along.

"We had a game plan to try and get a result and it worked for a long time."


From Belfast Telegraph