Belfast Telegraph

I said goodbye to Liverpool to get Northern Ireland career back on track: McLaughlin

By Liam Blackburn

Ryan McLaughlin once prioritised playing for Liverpool over his country, but the full-back admits resurrecting his international career motivated his Anfield exit.

The 22-year-old is back in Michael O'Neill's squad for the World Cup qualifier with Norway, two years on from the most recent of his three caps, and five years after his first call-up.

Big things were predicted for the 17-year-old back then. McLaughlin made his senior Liverpool debut in America against Roma at Boston's Fenway Park - with Jamie Carragher and Raheem Sterling among his team-mates and Francesco Totti among his opponents.

However, on the international scene McLaughlin was something of a rogue agent. In 2013 he told a disbelieving O'Neill he felt he was better off on Merseyside trying to break into Brendan Rodgers' first team.

"I was 18 and I knew I wasn't going to be playing for the Northern Ireland team - it was just to go away for the experience," McLaughlin, now with Oldham, said. "When it was international duty a lot of us young ones would have been up with the Liverpool first team and I wanted to show Brendan how good I could be."

Fast forward four years and the logic behind McLaughlin's decision could be queried. Injuries stopped him breaking into the Reds' team, while the right-back berth he had been earmarked for at international level now belongs to brother Conor.

Yet the younger McLaughlin does not harbour regret. He was at Euro 2016 to watch his country's first game at a major tournament in three decades and knew if he wanted to be playing on such a stage alongside his sibling, he would have to move.

"It was the main reason why I left Liverpool," he said. "I needed to be out playing first-team football for a full season. I wanted 30 or 40 games in one season and Oldham worked perfectly for me.

"I loved my time at Liverpool but I'm glad to be on my own pathway now."

Injuries have blighted McLaughlin throughout his career and ruptured ankle ligaments prevented him from training with O'Neill's squad in France at the Euros.

Witnessing a family member participate at such an historic event might have made it harder for some, but McLaughlin insists brotherly love was a boon.

"Seeing my brother do so well was a big thing for me, I was very happy for him," he said. "I went out to support and it was brilliant. It gave me hunger to get to another major tournament.

"I'd love to play alongside him. When you actually go to the stadium and realise it's the world stage and seeing him play in that, it was unbelievable for us.

"I'd have loved to have been in the squad but my dad said: 'Your time will come'."

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