Northern Ireland international Paddy McCourt is urging young talented players to stay in either the Irish League or League of Ireland instead of the glitz and glamour of cross channel football.
McCourt, who played his part in Michael O’Neill’s European Championship qualifying squad, has felt the heartache of not making it in England before returning home and eventually getting his big move to Celtic.
The 31-year-old went across the water to Rochdale were he spent four years before coming back home to sign for Roddy Collins’ Shamrock Rovers side and then eventually joining his home town club.
McCourt played three years with the Candy Stripes. In his first few months at the club, he helped Derry City to the League Cup and runners-up spot in the 2005 Premier Division, losing the title at Cork City on the final day.
In the 2006 season, he played in Derry’s UEFA Cup run, in which the club eventually lost to French giants Paris Saint-Germain, and helped them to win a cup double with victories in both the FAI Cup and League Cup finals.
McCourt scored four goals in 25 appearances for the Candystripes in the 2007 season and won a third League Cup medal.
His performances lead to a move to Parkhead in 2008 and now that he has those experiences he believes staying in the Irish League or League of Ireland is a better option for young players.
In recent years the likes of Niall McGinn, Daniel Lafferty, James McClean, David Forde and Conor Sammon have all left City to ply their trade across the water and have forced their way into the international set-up.
“There must have been eight or nine players leave Derry City for English and Scottish clubs in the last 10 years who will now be going to the Euros,” said McCourt.
“I think the League of Ireland and the Irish League can be a great place for young players to learn the game.
“If they don’t get a move at a very young age, they can learn the game and I know coming back to Shamrock Rovers and Derry City after being at Rochdale at a young age really helped me.
“You only have to look at Richie Towell going to Brighton last week. It shows that players who haven’t been given a chance across the water or didn’t make it for whatever reason, still have a chance if they do well in the League of Ireland or Irish League.
“The likes of Celtic and Championship clubs are always looking at players they may have missed out on at an earlier age.
“My son is seven now and if he asked me when he’s a bit older if he should go to a League One club or learn the game at Derry City, it would be a big choice.
“Richie Towell had about 10 clubs watching him from all over the world so the League of Ireland is still producing players.
“And when you see Stuart Dallas go from the Irish League to the international team in a couple of years, it gives every young player an added incentive.
“While the likes of Liam Boyce, Rory Donnelly and Joe Gormley have also got moves across the water after doing well in the Irish League.”
The Luton Town man said confidence was high in Michael O’Neill’s squad and a place at next year’s European Championships in France was a real possible before the qualifying campaign got underway.
“We were all pretty confident at the start of the campaign that we could get a play-off place at least,” he said.
“If we’re being honest, though, I don’t think anyone would have expected to win the group but our performances deserved that.
“After three or four games it was clear we were more than just keeping touch.
“After we won our third game in a row in Greece, that’s when I knew we had a great chance of qualifying.
“Winning the first game in Hungary was massive for confidence but winning in Greece showed that it wasn’t just a one-off.
“The big thing was that we went to Athens and won convincingly, too. We had gone under the radar until then but we knew we had a real chance of going to France.”
McCourt is level headed enough to know that he isn’t going to start games, but he wants to be ready and rearing to go when called upon.
“Like any player, I want to play as often as possible but it is always going to be tough to break into a winning team.
“We’ve had a settled team and when we are winning, it is easier to accept when I don’t play. Why would the manager want to change a winning team?
“When we are away from home or facing teams who will have a lot of the ball, I know I’m unlikely to start but I just have to make sure I am ready it I’m called upon at any stage.
“We have to be solid and hard to beat in those games and because my game is based on attacking, it means I am unlikely to start.”