Luke McCullough’s assured senior international debut in South America last week should serve as the perfect inspiration for the town’s next generation of football prospects.
That is the view shared by two established figures in the area’s grassroots scene - with both having first-hand experience of Luke’s early promise and determination to progress in the game.
Alan Robinson, a founder member of the Loughgall Youth system, recalls watching Luke as a teenager at club level. Brendan Grimes coached the 20-year-old centre-back in the Milk Cup and considers Luke a role model for this summer’s County Armagh teenagers.
“Luke has played in the Milk Cup for County Armagh, Manchester United and Northern Ireland,” said Grimes, who remains part of the County Armagh Milk Cup Association. “I am sure quite a few young footballers from the area tuned in last week to watch Luke make his Northern Ireland debut against Uruguay.
“For someone from the town to make it on to the international stage is a wonderful achievement and can only help inspire those players hoping to follow in his footsteps.
“It was brilliant to see how Luke did not allow the occasion to disrupt his focus.
“He stood out as a boy and played at Milk Cup level for us at an early age due to that potential.
“He was always a dominant figure and someone who controlled the game but stayed quiet and with a cool head.
“He had interest from professional scouts at an early age but never went about his business with any airs or graces.
“We are working towards the Milk Cup squads for the summer and to see Luke do so well must give our lads a boost going into this year’s tournament.
“With games against Liverpool, Glasgow Rangers and Manchester United for the teams then it offers a wonderful shop window for someone to grab an opportunity.
“The Milk Cup can lead to anything, with Aaron Duke’s performances last year the start of interest from Dundee United that has resulted in a contract.
“It is all about possibility and Luke’s international cap must be a great motivation.”
Alan worked alongside Luke’s father, Dean, on Loughgall Youth’s early committee.
“We are all delighted to see Luke progress to such a high level,” said Alan. “Dean was a great coach for Luke and the other boys and it was obvious from an early age that Luke was someone special who had a real chance.”
Turn to pages 16 and 64, plus www.portadowntimes.co.uk for more on Luke.