Belfast Telegraph

I'll keep working to realise Premier League dream, says Northern Ireland hero Paul Smyth

Northern Ireland 2-1 South Korea

By Graham Luney

The little man does like to make a big impact.

Within eight months Paul Smyth has moved from Linfield to Queens Park Rangers, scored on his debut for the Championship side and then repeated the trick in his first senior international appearance.

He must spend all day doing cartwheels and somersaults around the house.

But the most exciting part of the Paul Smyth story is the fact he is only 20-years-old.

The magic is only just beginning.

And he's living his dream thanks to sheer hard work and ambition.

He's now an inspiration to other Irish League players such as his Under-21 team-mate, Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte, who can see clearly this is the reward for continued progression.

There has been talk of interest in the winger from Republic of Ireland and why wouldn't there be as this rising star would be an asset to any international side.

But Smyth said afterwards he was committed to Northern Ireland and that will be a massive relief to the Green and White Army.

Boss Michael O'Neill always knew the potential was there.

He invited Smyth to join the squad for training at the Euro 2016 finals but this goal on his senior debut will lift his confidence to a new level.

After the Windsor winner against South Korea, his infectious enthusiasm for the game has just gone up a notch.

Humble as always, however, he will still board the tube to Queens Park Rangers and shun the fancy cars.

The boy is going places, possibly all the way to the Premier League and you can be sure he will give it his best shot.

From his 82nd minute substitution it took him only four minutes to have the fans on their feet singing his name.

He also had a special word of thanks to Linfield and their supporters who have encouraged him every step of his exciting journey.

"Linfield and the fans have always pushed me on to do well and I'm just delighted I got a goal for them as well at the Kop Stand and for all the Northern Ireland fans," said Smyth, the man with the broadest smile at Windsor Park.

"I was just glad the chance came to me and I was able to take it."

So what is his advice to Irish Lague aces Gavin Whyte, Mark Sykes, Bobby Burns and Jamie McGonigle who are also chasing professional dreams?

"Work hard and listen to the people around you," added the Belfast man. "They have the experience and know what it takes.

"I listened to my Linfield manager David Healy and now my current manager Ian Holloway and they have pushed me to go as high as I can. Hopefully that is to the Premier League.

"Work hard and listen to those who want you to fulfil your potential."

Even in the midst of his celebrations after a Conor Washington header created the space for him to clinically dispatch the winner, there wasn't the slightest hint of a footballer believing he had made it.

"I want to be as big as I can be in the game," he added.

"It's every boys' dream to play professional football and I've always had a target to push on and reach even the Premier League.

"The last year has been amazing for me and things have happened very quickly but I've needed to adapt to it all.

"I will just keep pushing as hard as I can.

"I will keep my head down and work hard and see how far it takes me.

"I'm getting used to scoring on my debut and it's been a good couple of months for me.

"My partner moved over with me to England and everyone is encouraging me.

"The best way to play football is to play without fear and pressure, just enjoy it."

South Korea had enough chances to win this friendly and Northern Ireland lived dangerously at times with the dynamic duo of captain Ki Sung-yueng and Son Heung-min orchestrating clever attacks.

The home side were slow out of the blocks and they fell behind in the seventh minute when Kwon Chang-hoon produced the killer touch after an exquisite pass from Son.

Northern Ireland equalised in the 21st minute through a smart set piece as Oliver Norwood touched a free kick to Jamie Ward and his cross was turned into his own net by Kim Min-jae.

The home goal led a charmed life after the break and then Smyth made his now familiar dramatic introduction in the final few minutes.

This was Smyth's moment to cherish though, quietly, O'Neill might whisper to himself it was an inspired substitution.

"We were a bit rusty and a few of our players hadn't played a lot of first team football," said O'Neill.

"We had to dig in and score a good equaliser from a well worked set piece that gave us more belief.

"I'm delighted for Paul, he's a very promising young player who we brought to France during the Euros and we have seen his progression with the Under-21s and at Queen's Park Rangers.

"His progress from part-time football is great to see and it was always our intention to bring him into the senior squad.

"We wanted him to concentrate on the Under-21s and he repaid us after his senior call up.

"It was George Saville's first start in Belfast and I thought he was excellent.

"It is 20 years since Aaron Hughes made his debut and it's testament to him that he is still playing at this level. It was good to get Craig Cathcart and Paddy McNair on the pitch after their injury troubles and it will benefit them physically and mentally."

O'Neill said in the match programme: "The future starts today and I believe it will be good."

If Smyth can keep doing what he does best, the future will be a lot better than that.

N Ireland: Carson, McAuley, J Evans (Cathcart, 68 mins), Jones (Smyth, 82 mins), Lewis, C Evans (Boyce, 62 mins), Saville, Norwood (McNair, 71 mins), Hughes (McLaughlin, 18 mins), Ward (Washington, 62 mins), Magennis. Unused subs: McGovern, Ferguson, Hodson, Lavery, Hazard.

South Korea: Seunggyu Kim, Minjae Kim (Minwoo Kim, 36 mins), Jinsu Kim, Yong Lee, Hyunsoo Jang, Sungyueng Ki (Wooyoung Jung, 68 mins), Jooho Park (Changmin Lee, 68 mins), Changhoon Kwon (Heechan Hwang, 62 mins), Jaesung Lee, Heungmin Son (Kihun Yeom, 75 mins), Shinwook Kim. Unused subs: Jinhyeon Kim, Hyeonwoo Jo, Jeongho Hong, Chulsoon Choi, Youngsun Yun, Jacheol Koo, Keunho Lee.

Referee: Bobby Madden (Scotland)

Man of match: George Saville

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph