Conor McLaughlin became the first player to represent Fleetwood Town at a major international tournament when he played in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 opening game defeat to Poland yesterday.
McLaughlin played the full 90 minutes at right-back and he did not look out of place as Northern Ireland shackled Bayern Munich hot-shot Robert Lewandowski
But his strike partner Arkadiusz Milik’s goal early in the second period of the clash in Nice inflicted a first defeat in 13 on Michael O’Neill’s side, who were the first to represent their country at a tournament since the class of the 1986 World Cup.
McLaughlin made a crucial block but Northern Ireland failed to fire up top.
They carved out minimal chances but the 24-year-old so nearly found himself in on goal; he just missed connecting with a pass and carving his name in his country’s history books.
But he has etched his name in Fleetwood’s folklore as he becomes the first Town player to play at a major tournament.
And the full-back is keen to see Northern Ireland bounce back when they face the Ukraine in their second Group C game at the Stade des Lumières on Thursday.
He said: “The lads are obviously all looking forward to testing themselves against some of the best players in the world.
“For myself, I’m used to just watching these players on TV never mind playing against them, so I really can’t wait for that to see what they’re like.
“The standout team for me will be Germany, but like I say we’ll be up against some unbelievable individuals and I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve said it before but I’m grateful to Fleetwood Town for giving me a chance when I left Preston. I got regular games which was the main thing I needed.
“From there I’ve managed to step up to international level, and it’s great for the club to be recognised on the European stage too by having a representative at the tournament.
“Back home in Northern Ireland everyone has just gone crazy for it! I’ve seen video clips on social media of people getting ready to head over there, so there’ll be thousands of people watching us.
“My Mum and Dad came over to watch with my brothers too. Hopefully it was a proud moment for them.”