PADDY McCourt is hoping it’s not the end of the line for his N. Ireland career after signing for part-time Irish League outfit, Glenavon this week - but the Derry man has braced himself for rejection.
The gifted former Celtic star fears his chances of reviving his international career are now limited as he expects N. Ireland boss, Michael O’Neill to overlook players plying their trade in the Irish League, including Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan who recently signed for Linfield.
McCourt has 18 caps and was unavailable for selection ahead of N. Ireland’s incredible Euro 2016 campaign after his wife, Laura was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
And while he’s delighted to be back playing football following his wife’s recovery, he says he’s ‘not holding out much hope’ of returning to the international fold and prefers to concentrate on his pre-season preparations with the Lurgan ‘Blues.’
“I’ll have to wait and see how the season goes,” he said last night. “I’m not sure what will happen to be honest. I haven’t spoken to Michael (O’Neill) about anything like that but I’m not sure if he would select anyone if they’re not playing in England or Scotland or playing full-time.
“Maybe it will be a conversation we will have in the future but at the minute it’s not at the forefront of my mind. I’m just concentrating on getting back training and getting back playing. “If it happens it would be great but, if I’m honest, I’m not holding out much hope for it!”
Expectations at Irish Cup winners, Glenavon have raised significantly since the announcement of his arrival on Tuesday evening,
However, McCourt played down the significance of his signing and while he insists that his arrival won’t guarantee league title success, he hopes he can help the team progress over the course of the season.
“We’ll have to see as the season progresses where we’re at,” added McCourt. “I don’t think there’s many teams who sign one player and all of a sudden they become title challengers. It’s a team effort and it’ll be a long hard season.
“But we seem to have a good squad up there. They probably fell a wee bit short last year towards the end and managed to celebrate at the end of the season by winning the cup.
If it happens it would be great but, if I’m honest, I’m not holding out much hope for it!Paddy McCourt
“Gary’s (Hamilton) done a really good job. When he first took over they were really struggling and they’ve come a bit more every season and hopefully we can bring the club on that bit further next season.”
McCourt was ‘disappointed’ with Derry City as talks about a potential return to his hometown club broke down publicly but he says he will remain a fan and bears no ill will towards the Brandywell club.
And having returned home following spells with Celtic, Barnsley, Brighton & Hove Albion, Notts County (on loan) and Luton, he’s delighted to join former Derry City teammate Ciaran Martyn at Mourneview Park.
So how does he think he will fit into Irish League football?
“I’ve obviously played here before. I played in the League of Ireland for three or four years and during that time I played against Irish League teams so I know pretty much what the standard is.
“It will be competitive enough. In this day and age everybody is fit and can run. They might not have the same quality as other leagues but it’s still competitive league. There’s probably three or four maybe five teams who will believe they have a chance of doing something.
“So I definitely think there’s going to be a competitive edge to it without a doubt.”