Belfast Telegraph

Paddy McNair hungry for more after Northern Ireland's Euro journey

By Steven Beacom

Paddy McNair has revealed how the Euro 2016 finals have made him hungry to experience more major tournaments with Northern Ireland.

The 21-year-old was the youngest player in Michael O'Neill's squad in France, starting the first game against Poland in Nice and coming off the bench late on to feature in the 2-0 victory over Ukraine in Lyon which helped seal a spot in the last 16.

O'Neill believes that the versatile Manchester United ace can be a big star for Northern Ireland for years to come and McNair certainly hopes that will be the case.

The boy from Ballyclare, who is keen to impress new Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho during pre-season, has come a long way in a short space of time.

In September 2014, under then manager Louis van Gaal, he made his senior debut for United, shining in a 2-1 win against West Ham at Old Trafford and two months later he earned his first call-up to the international panel.

In March last year he won his first cap against Scotland and from then on has been a key figure in O'Neill's plans, playing in the holding midfield role on the unforgettable night when Northern Ireland qualified for France with a 3-1 victory over Greece at Windsor Park.

At the Euro finals, McNair could have counted himself unfortunate to be asked to play in several different positions during the opening 45 minutes of Northern Ireland's first group game versus a dominant Poland side before being replaced at half-time in the 1-0 defeat.

There was more joy next time around when he came off the bench in the success against Ukraine.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, McNair, who can play in defence or midfield, said: "I can't believe how much my life has changed in the last two years and I want that to continue.

"I'm 21 and hopefully I can continue playing for Northern Ireland for another 15 years and hopefully we can qualify for more tournaments in that time.

"That is our aim now. Qualifying for the Euro finals and getting the chance to be part of that was incredible.

"To be on the pitch when we beat Ukraine was a wonderful feeling and I'm really hoping that there will be more great days like that for Northern Ireland," added McNair, whose proud family were out in France cheering him and the team on.

McNair says he was blown away by the support the team received both in France and back home.

Like the rest of the Northern Ireland players, the United star savoured the homecoming party at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast last month when 10,000 fans turned up to give O'Neill's side such a warm and noisy welcome.

"It was unbelievable. It was breathtaking," he stated.

"Being up on stage that night to see how many people turned out to welcome us home was incredible.

"Out in France we had heard the support from back home was special and to see it with our own eyes was amazing.

"Our fans were brilliant at the Euro finals. The support they gave us before, during and after the matches was incredible. It really spurred us on."

While the talented McNair is guaranteed to be part of Northern Ireland's plans for the next decade and beyond, he also hopes to become a regular at Manchester United in the future.

Given his chance by Dutchman Van Gaal, he is now determined to show Mourinho what he can do.

United are scheduled to fly to China today for glamour friendlies with Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.

The Red Devils face the Germans in Shanghai on Friday before Mourinho and new City boss Pep Guardiola come face to face in Beijing next Monday.

Mourinho has stated that United's England players who were involved in the Euro 2016 finals won't figure on the Far East trip, but whether McNair is in the same boat remains to be seen.

What is certain is that the 21-year-old is eager to make an impression and has the belief in his own ability to do it.

"It is a new challenge for me and one that I'm really looking forward to," McNair said.

"I'm confident that I can show the manager what I'm all about. I believe in my ability and hopefully he likes what he sees and gives me a chance.

"I'll be working hard in training during pre-season and if I get a chance to play in any games that will be a good opportunity for me to show what I'm made of."

Belfast Telegraph

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