McCullough family and friends set for France to cheer on hometown favourite

Luke McCullough with his parents, Dean and Shirleen, before heading from Portadown to EURO 2016.
Luke McCullough with his parents, Dean and Shirleen, before heading from Portadown to EURO 2016.

The McCullough family can boast a medal collection that includes Irish League championship and cup honours - but the current generation may be on the verge of a string of experiences to match any future dinner table discussions.

Luke McCullough has already secured a spot in the history books as the first person from Portadown to represent Northern Ireland at a major football finals.

The Doncaster Rovers defender is preparing for Northern Ireland’s opening EURO 2016 meeting on Sunday against Poland as one of the nation’s finest 23 players in the verdict of manager Michael O’Neill.

McCullough is aiming to return from Northern Ireland’s first tournament appearance in 30 years with an increase on his current tally of five senior caps.

Playing time on the pitch against Poland, Ukraine or Germany across the group stages could ultimately lead to additional progress and another major step forward in his career.

McCullough is determined to maximise the opportunity and can count on support from family and friends.

His father, Dean, won the Irish Cup with Glenavon and enjoyed consistent success in the colours of Loughgall. McCullough’s uncle, Gary, collected an Irish League winner’s medal with Linfield.

It is a neat example of football symmetry that two members of the McCullough family, Gary and Neil, once helped Keith Rowland - the town’s previous player to earn senior recognition for his country - during days as a young defender at Linfield.

The 22-year-old McCullough had numerous career advice on hand across his early stages on the books at Loughgall Youth, Dungannon Swifts and Manchester United.

“We spoke briefly on Saturday and Luke has settled in well,” said McCullough’s father, Dean. “Everyone is so proud of Luke and the backing from people around town has been great.

“Everyone is talking about the European Championships and so many from town seem set to travel over to France.

“Family members are heading over this weekend, with about 40 of Luke’s friends also booked in for the trip.

“We are so proud of Luke and to see him get minutes in the tournament would be amazing.

“Lots have also been wishing Luke well and giving him support, which we all really appreciate.

“Luke is pretty relaxed but he understands how great an opportunity this is for his development.

“The competition offers Luke the chance to take another step up the ladder and take as much from this experience as possible.

“The ultimate target is for Luke to come away having picked up a taste of playing at such a prestigious level.

“This is a major chance but Luke must also make sure he is ready to grab the opportunity.

“The long-term goal, in the same way as for every other player, is to secure a spot in the international starting line-up.

“Luke has worked hard but will not want this EURO 2016 call-up to the Northern Ireland squad alone as the high point of his career.”