Paddy McNair says he honed his skills as a young footballer by spending countless hours practising on his family’s Ballynure farm.
The 20-year-old homegrown star burst onto the first-team at Manchester United last September as a relative unknown. Such was his impact, he was awarded a new contract by Old Trafford boss Louis Van Gaal in February.
“I love playing for Van Gaal, I really enjoy it and hopefully that will continue for many more years to come,” McNair told the Manchester Evening News.
“When you see the young players he has given a chance to in the past at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it’s nice of him to show faith in me with a new contract.”
The future certainly looks bright for the former Ballyclare Secondary School pupil who has also been involved at full international level, as part of Northern Ireland’s squad for the Euro 2016 campaign. Having been handed his debut against Scotland earlier this year, he also featured in the recent friendly against Qatar. He was an unused sub in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at home to Group F leaders Romania.
Quite what playing position he will call his own remains to be seen. And when the Ballyclare Colts product was quizzed on whether he prefers operating in midfield or defence, he replied: “I quite enjoy playing both ... I’d be happy playing in either area of the pitch.
“I think I’m a ball-player rather than a ball-winner. I just love having the ball at my feet.
“Moving forward, I’d like to try and nail down a place in the United team, just try and play as many games as I can and hopefully the trophies come.”
If that dream of becoming a United regular and winning silverware materialises for Ballyclare’s biggest footballing export since Tommy Wright, he’ll remember the time spent thumping the ball against the walls of the farm.
“I just played football all day, literally,” he said.
“We had a garden with walls around it, and I just kicked the ball off the walls all day.
“I practised four or five hours a day. When people came past my house, they would always remark to my mum that I never stopped practising because I was always out in the garden. There wasn’t much else to do.”