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Football: PAT'S NEW POST ARRIVES; Derry boy McCourt set to deliver for Northern Ireland against Spain N. IRELAND v SPAIN Windsor Park, April 17.

PAT McCOURT believes Northern Ireland has its "fair share" of top class internationals, but the latest addition to Sammy McIlroy's squad is not in awe of his new-found colleagues.

Indeed the only people in the game he holds utmost admiration for are his brothers, Harry and Leroy.

It was Leroy who nurtured Pat during his spell with junior club Foyle Harps and Harry who cut an figure of inspiration in his playing days with Ards, Omagh, Derry City and Cliftonville.

McCourt is expected to win his first senior cap against Spain on Wednesday, just several months after making his debut for Rochdale in Nationwide Division Three.

His progress in the game has been quick.

Signed by Rochdale directly from Foyle Harps, the player was taken off a Youth Training Programme and handed a three year professional contract.

That followed impressive performances from the Derry teenager, once a target of the FAI and Republic of Ireland youth boss Brian Kerr, at youth and reserve team level.

A natural-born striker, he was moved to play on the left and right wings for his club and has made a considerable impact in the drive to gain automatic promotion to Division Two.

"Things have really moved for me, it's been a fantastic year so far," said McCourt.

"It's going to be a great experience for me to train with the likes of Jim Magilton and Keith Gillespie and the occasion at Windsor Park will be memorable.

"I won't be in awe of the top players. It will be great to be with them but my heroes will always be my brothers Harry and Leroy.

"They always looked out for me. Leroy is a good coach and I always listened to his advice. Harry was the one I watched as a player.

"No matter which club he was with, I supported. I went to Derry, Ards, Omagh and Cliftonville following Harry's career."

Promoted by Leroy McCourt, coach of underage teams with Foyle Harps, Pat gained the attention of a local scout who alerted Rochdale.

The player had no links to any senior club in Ireland, barring a spell with Coleraine's youth team.

Rochdale will gain maximum benefit should the club's manager, former Chelsea star John Hollins, decide to sell.

McCourt has already been described as the Kanu (Arsenal) of the Nationwide League, a label the player is happy with.

"Several times it has been said that I am the new Kanu, but I'm not so sure about that.

"Maybe it's because of my build and not the skill. It's a compliment to be compared to someone with so much quality.

"There have also been reports linking me to big clubs but I don't pay much attention to that.

"You learn quickly that these things come and go and I'm happy to get on with playing the game.

"If I could, I would spend the rest of my career at Rochdale.

"I would love to be part of a club that reaches the Premiership from gaining promotion. But I cannot decide my future. The manager may one day want to sell me and there will be nothing I can do about it."

Playing alongside former Republic of Ireland star Alan McLoughlin, the man whose goal against Northern Ireland in 1993 took the Republic to USA '94, McCourt is gaining a great deal of experience at Rochdale.

"In such a short time I have played for the youth, reserve and first team at Rochdale. I have been involved in vital matches before big crowds and I'm experiencing a promotion chase. All of that is great for me at such an early stage."

Scorer of four league goals in 12 senior starts, McCourt could have been among Republic of Ireland players ahead of this week's friendly against the US in Dublin.

Like Derry-born Mark McKeever, McCourt had the option of declaring for Mick McCarthy's side, leaving Sammy McIlroy at a loss.

But after speaking to both associations, McCourt listened to his brothers and advice at his club.

"Harry (McCourt) said that I should take into consideration how many Northern Ireland-born players who opted to play for the Republic had become senior internationals.

"Mark McKeever and Gerard Crossley (former Celtic, now Cliftonville) both made the move and did not go further.

"I have always been a fan of the Republic and Northern Ireland but in my heart I wanted to play for Sammy McIlroy. He showed an interest in me and I respect him for that."

Harry McCourt retired from the Irish League weeks after winning a league championship medal with Cliftonville in 1998.

But the veteran striker is poised to make a comeback next season with Omagh Town.

NORTHERN IRELAND:Taylor (Fulham), Carroll (Manchester United), Griffin (Dundee United), Holmes (Wrexham), Williams (Wimbledon), A Hughes (Newcastle United), M Hughes (Birmingham City), Gillespie (Blackburn), Magilton (Ipswich), Lennon (Celtic), Mulryne (Norwich City), McCourt (Rochdale), Horlock (Manchester City), McVeigh (Norwich City), McCartney (Sunderland), Feeney (Bournemouth), Johnson (Birmingham City), Healy (Preston), Elliott (Motherwell)

SPAIN: Canizares (Valencia), Casillas (Real Madrid), Puyol (Barcelona), Hierro (Real Madrid), Nadal (Mallorca), Curro Torres (Valencia), Juanfran (Celta), Joaquin (Betis), Helguera (Real Madrid), Juan Valeron, Sergio (both Deportivo L.C.), Javier de Pedro (R. Sociedad), Baraja, Albelda (both Valencia), Mendieta (Lazio), Morientes, Raul (both Real Madrid), Tristan (Deportivo)

CAPTION(S):

Harry McCourt (centre) celebrating Cliftonville's Irish League win in 1998
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 14, 2002
Words:890
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