McCullough’s pride at his club and country progress

Luke McCullough has made history as the first player from Portadown to represent Northern Ireland at a major finals. Pic by Pacemaker.
Luke McCullough has made history as the first player from Portadown to represent Northern Ireland at a major finals. Pic by Pacemaker.

Luke McCullough may have utilised part of Monday’s flight to Austria as an opportunity to reflect on the progress of the past two years for club and country.

The 22-year-old defender has secured a spot as, in the significant judgement of manager Michael O’Neill, one of the nation’s finest 23 players.

His selection for EURO 2016 confirms a place in Portadown’s history books as the first from the town to represent Northern Ireland at a major finals.

Monday’s date of May 30 held extra significance for McCullough as it marked the second anniversary of his senior debut - with the subsequent years providing crucial club experience and four additional caps.

Lessons from two relegation campaigns inside three years with Doncaster Rovers have served the dual lows and highs of collective disappointment but individual development.

McCullough has lined out for Rovers and Northern Ireland across positions such as centre-back, right-back and defensive midfield. That versatility could prove key in the intensive commitment of tournament football and McCullough understands the value of learning from each situation.

“I am delighted to be in the squad for France and it has been quite a busy period over the past two years,” said McCullough. “When you think back to my debut against Uruguay, it was only May 2014 and quite a lot has gone on since that South America tour.

“It really all started for me with the Northern Ireland senior set-up on that tour and I managed to prove what I could do.

“Michael O’Neill told me about my selection for EURO 2016 and said I had impressed everyone in training.

“It is a great group, with everyone considered equal and that team spirit has been a massive part of our success.

“It is up to me to maximise my chances in training, learn as mch as possible from every experience and focus on being ready when called on.

“Confidence is high based on results and momentum can be so important in football.

“The build-up back home has been intensive but brilliant and the idea behind heading off to Austria and Saturday’s Slovakia friendly is to get into a football routine.

“There is a laidback atmosphere around the place but a focus when it comes down to business.

“I am sharing a room with Craig Cathcart and certainly everyone is training hard in preparation for France.”

McCullough will fly the flag for Portadown in an official capacity over the European Championships but he can count on support from plenty of familiar faces in the stands.

“It sounds like half the town is heading over to support us and I have been talking to so many people when home who have plans to travel,” said McCullough. “My family will be out, of course, plus quite a few friends.

“My friends have talked about taking a picture of the group in front of my Northern Ireland billboard in Portadown town centre and posting it up on Facebook before heading over to France.

“I am certainly very proud to be representing Portadown.”