Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill took time out of preparations for the EURO 2016 finals to return to his roots on Friday.
The Portadown-born international boss, who left town as a child but still has family connections to the area, was a special guest at Carrickblacker.
The evening marked the latest function organised by the Portadown Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club - with a packed 130-strong attendance enjoying the chance to hear the views of the man behind the national team’s march to the European Championships.
It is a measure of the supporters’ club’s standing within the Northern Ireland football family that O’Neill accepted the invitation and it proved a memorable night.
“Michael was a guest at our dinner in 2011 and became an honorary member of the club that night,” said Portadown Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club chairman Alan Curran. “Michael enjoyed the opportunity to come back to Portadown and he spoke of his early memories of living in the town and his current family links.
“At that appearance in 2011, as manager of Shamrock Rovers, Michael spoke with great pride about Northern Ireland.
“It was great to have him back last week but as manager of a national team now looking forward to the European Championships this summer in France.
“It was a wonderful gesture by Michael to take the time to visit our dinner and he was so generous on the night, happy to chat to fans, pose for photographs and sign his autograph.
“One clear message was Michael’s passion, not only for the national team but also the development of the game overall, from grassroots level in Northern Ireland to the role Irish League football can play.
“There is a wonderful bond between the fanbase, Michael and the players and everyone is relishing the chance to show our support in France.
“Michael was also asked about Luke McCullough, born in Portadown and currently playing for Doncaster Rovers.
“He feels that Luke has a bright future and is gaining great experience at Doncaster.
“Of course, from the supporters’ viewpoint, it would be great to see someone from the town play for Northern Ireland at EURO 2016.
“Our thanks go to everyone at Portadown Golf Club for working so hard to make the night such a success.”
A raffle helped to generate around £1,200 towards the CRY NI (Cardiac Risk In The Young) charity.
Gene Fitzpatrick served as compere, with FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce - a long-standing friend of the Portadown Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club - also a welcome guest.