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Mark Sykes making a success of Oxford United career

Liam Beckett


Mark Sykes

Mark Sykes

Mark Sykes

Mark Sykes

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Mark Sykes

I was excited to tune in to this week's FA Cup replay between Oxford United and Newcastle to catch up on the progress being made by former Glenavon midfielder Mark Sykes.

He didn't disappoint. In fact, he was nothing short of superb, particularly in the second half and throughout extra-time.

He's the latest shining example to all aspiring young footballers that sometimes it pays to serve a proper apprenticeship in the Irish League before trying your luck in full-time professional football.

It's no secret that many kids make the annual pilgrimage into cross-channel football only to get lost in the system and end up returning home disillusioned with the game and feeling like failures when very often nothing could be further from the truth.

I also spent some time this week with Larne's Martin Donnelly, who told me that, when he had just turned 17-years-old - and I'd tried to sign him for Cliftonville - he opted for a move to Sheffield United and hated every minute of it.

He found it to be an extremely lonely existence and one which had him phoning home practically every day pleading to come back.

Marty feels he was too young, too immature and quite obviously not quite ready for the demands and rigours of full-time football in England - wise words indeed for many of those starry-eyed kids who get brainwashed and reckon it's their only way forward to the big time.

To the contrary, it would appear that the more mature and experienced Sykes has now come of age at just the right time not only for Oxford but, of course, for Northern Ireland as well.

Mark was absolutely outstanding on Tuesday night, always comfortable and confident on the ball and certainly at no time looking out of place or out of his depth against Premier League opponents.

So surely this lad has staked his claim for a place in the reckoning for the upcoming Bosnia-Herzegovina game?

Although manager Michael O'Neill had indicated some time ago that he could almost name his squad there and then, I'm quite confident he'll be well informed and fully updated on the likes of Sykes and indeed Liam Boyce, who also seems to be in a rich vein of form at his new club Hearts.

Incidentally, so impressive was Sykes on Tuesday night that it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if even bigger clubs might well be casting an eye towards the possibility of acquiring his services in the not too distant future.

It's an exciting time in his career and that can only be good news for all Oxford and Northern Ireland fans, so keep your passport handy young man, I reckon you just might be getting a call from a certain Mr O'Neill before long.

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Belfast Telegraph