Injury meant he was unavailable for Saturday’s trip to Goodison Park, so Manchester United’s Paddy McNair opted for Dixon Park instead.
The 20-year-old defender sat among the home fans as his hometown team, Ballyclare Comrades, fell to a 3-1 defeat to Lurgan Celtic in a second-tier Irish League match.
Earlier in the week, the Northern Ireland international had spent three nights in hospital in Helsinki after he suffered an abdominal injury in the 1-1 draw against Finland. Sidelined, he returned home and took the chance to see family and friends and cast an eye over the Comrades.
“I thought it was a good game,” said McNair. “I thought they (the Comrades) were a bit unlucky with Lurgan’s first goal. But it’s good to come back and watch a match. I thought Lurgan had a few good players and their better players won them the game.
“For me, it’s good to be back where I started off and see people I haven’t seen in a long time and catch up.”
As a boy, McNair’s burgeoning talent was first nurtured with Ballyclare Colts, and he has special memories of playing for the club.
“I owe them a lot,” he said. “I started playing there when I was about 10 and the club definitely helped me a lot and I’m thankful for it. I remember playing at Dixon Park a few times and at Sixmile Leisure Centre and every time I come back I remember those times.”
McNair admitted he wasn’t ‘too nervous’ when Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill told him he’d be making his competitive debut against Greece earlier this month. It turned out to be an historic night as the team secured their passage to next summer’s European Championships with a 3-1 win.
“It was brilliant,” he smiled. “It was my first-ever game at Windsor Park and it was a day I’ll never forget.
“I was looking forward to it. I wasn’t too nervous. I was just excited and I wanted to get us to France and we did that. I just had to concentrate on my own and game and the rest just takes care of itself.”
He added: “A lot of the players helped me leading up to the game and during it. I thought we played really well and we deserved what we got.
“To get a chance to play in the European Championships would be massive and hopefully I’ll be on that plane.”