Paddy McLaughlin's pride at representing his country
You can hear the pride in Paddy McLaughlin’s voice as he starts to talk about the period of his career in which he captained Northern Ireland’s U21 side, but he hasn’t really spent too much time reflecting on it before now.
The central midfielder is enjoying a second permanent spell at National League North outfit York City - who he helped gain promotion to the Football League in 2012 - after signing back at the club from Hartlepool United in April 2019.
It hasn’t been an easy campaign for The Minstermen with their season declared null and void due to the coronavirus pandemic but that wasn’t before York’s squad had to endure three different periods of self-isolation, meaning they only played two games this calendar year.
McLaughlin was born in Larne and started his journey out in their youth section before signing for Newcastle United in 2007.
He had already represented Northern Ireland at U15 level prior to that move to the Premier League giants and was a permanent fixture right through to the U21’s, who he captained twice against North Macedonia, and more notably, England.
His opposite number that night was Jordan Henderson – an emerging midfielder that had already made a big move to Liverpool after two seasons in the top-flight with Sunderland.
Henderson has since gone on to lead Liverpool to Premier League and Champions League glory while representing England on 58 occasions, but as McLaughlin explains, he wasn’t the standout star in that squad.
“They had Tom Ince in the team, who was at Blackpool, and he was absolutely flying,” said the 30-year-old.
“There was a lot of talk that Manchester United and Liverpool were looking at him and they thought he would be the next big thing at the top level.
“He’s a quality player who has had a good career, but they said he would be a big England international, play in the Champions League and everything else. I actually went and got his shirt.
“It would have been easier to get Henderson’s as we were both skippers but I went straight for Tom Ince’s.
“Maybe I should have went for Henderson’s instead!
“These are things that I will look back on more when I finish playing and probably appreciate more.
“I have a wee boy who is 17 months, so telling him about it all will be nice.”
Harry Maguire was on the bench that evening and was complimentary towards McLaughlin’s performance and with the honour of captaincy it was probably thought that he would progress into Northern Ireland’s senior squad, but it never came to fruition.
McLaughlin was playing in League Two for York after helping them seal the FA Trophy alongside promotion during two trips to Wembley in the span of eight days “which is still talked about to this day”.
“I never made it above League Two so that probably had a bearing on it,” he added.
“Centre midfield has been a position over the past 10 years that we have been really strong in.
“It would have been amazing to make a senior appearance but it wasn’t to be. It’s hard to put your finger on why but it’s just how it goes sometimes.
“I can’t be too hard on myself because I gave everything I had and it wasn’t enough to put me in that frame.
“There were plenty that didn’t get to the level I did so I can’t be too hard on myself.”
McLaughlin didn’t get an opportunity to make a senior appearance during four years at Newcastle but just the experiences of training with the likes of Michael Owen, Joey Barton, James Milner and Alan Smith had a profound impact on him.
Having grown up as a Manchester United fan, McLaughlin can still remember one of his first training sessions alongside Nicky Butt.
“Their careers speak for itself but they were really good guys too,” he said.
“They would happily give you advice and chat to you to make sure you knew you deserved to be there and welcome.
“I grew up as a Man United fan so to train with Nicky Butt was incredible. I think there is a pair of Butt’s boots in my dad’s house.
“I watched him play in a Champions League final as a kid and I remember one of my first training sessions with the first team when I was about 16 and Nicky was there.
“It was a pleasure to watch him train and he hadn’t lost any of the hunger at that age.”
When McLaughlin gets the chance to return to his hometown, he can’t help but notice the love for football growing upon each visit.
“It’s great to see,” he added.
“Growing up, Larne weren’t in the Premier League when I was really young and then they had a spell in it.
“They obviously had some bad times then but it’s great to see everything that’s going on and every time I’m home you see more Larne shirts and more Larne hats about the place. It’s brilliant to see.”
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