Newtownabbey has a new footballing star in Paddy McNair, writes John Gillespie.
It’s been a whirlwind week for the Ballyclare teenager who was thrust into the limelight when he was handed his debut for Manchester United at Old Trafford in front of 75,317 fans on Saturday afternoon.
McNair produced an assured performance at the heart of the United defence as Louis van Gaal’s men defeated West Ham 2-1.
He was given the nod by his Dutch boss after a lengthy defensive injury list - which included Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling - left the Red Devils threadbare at the back.
For McNair it was the stuff of dreams and the 19-year-old, a product of local boys’ club Ballyclare Colts, put in the sort of 90-minute shift that made him look like a seasoned campaigner, rather than a Premier League rookie.
His most telling contribution, in a game which saw Wayne Rooney red-carded, came seven minutes from time when he expertly headed Carl Jenkinson’s dangerous cross clear with Enner Valencia waiting to pounce for what would have been a late Hammers’ equaliser.
His clearance was highlighted by ex-United defender Phil Neville in his Match of the Day analysis.
Striker Robin van Persie praised his ability on the ball, his decision-making and his defensive qualities, while Juan Mata wrote on his blog: ‘In my opinion, Paddy has a bright future ahead’.
Whether he will retain his starting position for Sunday’s clash with Everton remains to be seen but if Saturday’s evidence is anything to go by, few would be surprised to see the number 33 keep hold of his starting berth.
One thing is for sure, he’s come a long way since being named the Belfast and East Antrim Youth League Under-11s Player of the Year back in 2004.
After just one match in the top-flight of English football, he has become Ballyclare’s biggest footballing export since Tommy Wright.
And it may not materialise in the short-term, but McNair’s arrival on the scene now throws up the unique possibility of two Newtownabbey men - himself and Evans - forming a central defensive partnership for both club and country.
In fact, if Monkstown man Michael Smith maintains his consistent performances at Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough United, the entire Northern Ireland back line could, at some stage, quite feasibly be made up of local talent: Smith, Evans, McNair and Craig Cathcart. What a coup that would be for this wee part of the world!