Guesting once more for ALS is Nial Coulter, co-editor of the Northern Ireland fanzine ‘Happy Days’, offering his words on the latest arrival at the SoL.
You can guarantee there will be two hectic days of transfer reporting each summer – 1st July and transfer deadline day. So it is no real surprise to see Sunderland nip in and secure an early summer transfer deal with right back Conor McLaughlin.
I am more familiar with Conor’s career at international level, with him being a regular at right-back for Northern Ireland since Michael O’Neill took charge in 2012. However, injuries and a lack of first team game-time last season has seen him slip behind Michael Smith of Hearts in the pecking order but there isn’t much to choose between the pair and it would be no surprise to see him competing for a starting berth once more in the September fixtures.
Conor McLaughlin is a tall, strong and pacy full-back who started his career at Preston North End, making his debut as a half-time substitute in their home loss against Hull in the Championship in 2010/11. It was following their relegation to League One that Conor started to play more regularly; that was until Graham Westley took charge and stuck him on the transfer list.
McLaughlin departed Preston for League Two newcomers Fleetwood in the summer of 2012, playing regularly over the next five seasons at the Lancashire side improved season on season, culminating in a 4th place finish in League One in 2016/17. His reputation had enhanced significantly during his time at Fleetwood, drawing interest from the likes of Leeds United and old club Preston after Euro 2016.
There weren’t many League One players at Euro 2016, but for Northern Ireland, we are used to having a handful in each of our squads. What was remarkable about Conor, though, was that throughout the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, he did not look out of place playing alongside and against players from higher divisions. Having defensive colleagues such as Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley and SAFC favourite Jonny Evans will only have helped his game.
When I interviewed NI World Cup legend Billy Hamilton, he singled out McLaughlin as a star of the qualifying campaign, calling it “amazing” how no-one at a higher level had picked him up.
Departing Fleetwood for Millwall two years ago seemed a promising move and his career in the Championship started well. However, a series of injuries and the form of Mahlon Romeo (son of Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B) meant that a move this summer was always likely.
Sunderland is a fantastic move for Conor. He will already know familiar faces in fellow internationals Will Grigg and Tom Flanagan, with Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans also likely to have put in a good word on behalf of the club. All McLaughlin needs is a run in the team and a manager who has confidence in his ability. Then he’ll soon be bombing down the right flank and having the odd pot shot at goal. Check out his strike for Northern Ireland against Azerbaijan!
Great bit of business all round.