Fleetwood’s Conor can’t wait for a world-class test at Euro 16

Conor McLaughlin attends a press conference following a training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 7, 2016. Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Conor McLaughlin attends a press conference following a training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 7, 2016. Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

Fleetwood defender Conor McLaughlin is relishing the task of tackling some of the best forwards in the world at Euro 2016 .

Fleetwood defender Conor McLaughlin is relishing the task of tackling some of the best forwards in the world at Euro 2016 .

After competing against League One’s finest – like Walsall’s Tom Bradshaw, Swindon’s Nicky Ajose and his Northern Ireland team-mate Will Grigg of champions Wigan – the ambitious full-back is eager to test himself against European big guns Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik if he is selected for Northern Ireland to face Poland in their opening game in Nice on Sunday.

Bayern Munich hotshot Lewandowski equalled the goalscoring record of McLaughlin’s compatriot David Healy in Euro qualifiers as he banged in 13 for Poland. The 27-year-old also scored 42 times for Bayern last term as they won the German Bundesliga.

Ajax’s Milik scored six in Poland’s qualifying campaign and netted 24 times in the Dutch top division last term.

But despite Poland’s obvious firepower, 24-year-old full-back McLaughlin says Michael O’Neill’s underdogs should not be underestimated.

A near ever-present as NI topped their qualifying group, McLaughlin was dropped for last weekend’s final friendly against Slovakia, when a goalless draw stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games.

But he is keen to get back in the action as his country face Poland, World champions Germany and Ukraine in the group stage.

McLaughlin said: “It is going to be a difficult game. Poland beat Germany in the group stage but we have shown we can play well against any sort of team.

“We will be well prepared and hopefully we can do well.

“When you are younger growing up, you want to play against the best players in the world. We are all relishing the test and I’m sure we will not give them an easy game.

“I first came into this squad when we played against Uruguay and Chile. Coming up against the likes of Alexis Sanchez, I came off the pitch thinking I want to come up against these players more often.

“Form going into the tournament does not always tell the tale of teams when they do go into it.

“But it is good to go in unbeaten. It is helpful to take confidence into it and hopefully we can show that in the first game.

“I’m hoping that I’ll be playing in the games and fingers crossed I stay fit throughout the tournament. It’s an unbelievable experience to be involved.

“We’re in a tough group, there’s no doubt about that. It’s the Euro’s, though, so whichever group we would have ended up in would have been difficult.”

When asked whether the tournament would be a chance to show potential higher league suitors what he is made of, McLaughlin said “definitely”. However, the former Preston player added that his country’s success is more important then his personal aspirations.

He said: “If the team does well and wins, that is what is most important to me.”

It is the first time Northern Ireland have qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

And Belfast-born McLaughlin says the key to their current success is team spirit. He said: “It has been an amazing journey. A couple of years ago nobody had heard of me.

“It has been brilliant just to be part of this group and making history on this unbeaten run.

“It is like a club atmosphere. The team spirit is unbelievable and there are no cliques. Everyone socialises with each other.”