Conor McLaughlin aims to make his name at Euro 2016
Published 07/06/2016 | 22:36
Fleetwood's Conor McLaughlin is aiming to go from the man who even some of his Northern Ireland team-mates may not have known to a key figure in his country's Euro 2016 campaign.
Two years ago, the day after helping the Cod Army to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history at Wembley, full-back McLaughlin travelled out to South America and featured against Uruguay and Chile in his first international outings since his 16-minute 2011 debut.
He has not looked back since, appearing on 18 occasions on the right-hand side of Michael O'Neill's defence despite still playing his club football two levels below the likes of international colleagues Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley.
Should he start against Poland in Nice on Sunday, he will be an unfamiliar figure to many fans on the continent, not that that is new territory for the 24-year-old.
"Probably some of the more experienced players didn't know who I was at the start," he notes.
"When we went to South America on tour two years ago, though, it was mainly younger lads so it was easy to settle in because I had played with some of them before.
"All the lads, including the experienced ones when they came back into the squad, are amazing. They made me feel a part of it straight away and it was easy to settle."
The juxtaposition of lining up against League One forwards to preparing for Robert Lewandowski, Andriy Yarmolenko and Thomas Muller has not been lost on his club colleagues either.
"They are buzzing for me, but it means I can't make a mistake in training or else they bring it up," McLaughlin added.
"Any bad passes and it's, 'You're not going to the Euros!' They've been brilliant with me and all been texting me since the end of the season wishing me good luck."
Like most players, McLaughlin is hoping his stock will rise with an impressive tournament in France and he knows that could lead to a move further up the football pyramid.
However, he has also not forgotten that the Cod Army rejuvenated his career following his release from Lancashire rivals Preston in 2012.
"There's probably no bigger shop window than a major international tournament; I want to play as high as I can," he admitted.
"I'm very grateful to Fleetwood - they gave me a chance when I was released by Preston and I'd just come back from a major injury.
"They gave me a chance to play some games and the experience of League Two, the play-off final, and playing games for them got me the chance to come here. I'm grateful to them but you do want to play as high as you can."