Saturday 7 December 2019

McLaughlin relishing NI trip

Wembley winner Conor McLaughlin will have a spring in his step when he boards a 13-hour flight bound for his brother and the rest of his Northern Ireland team-mates in Uruguay.

The 22-year-old Fleetwood full-back capped a memorable six days by following his call-up to Michael O'Neill's senior squad with victory in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final against Burton on Sunday.

His family were present to see what McLaughlin termed his "best feeling in football" at Wembley but there was one notable absentee, with younger brother Ryan, who is on Liverpool's books, already in South America with his international colleagues.

The elder sibling will not have to wait long to receive his congratulations in person, though, with a long flight heading for Uruguay on the agenda immediately after a night celebrating Fleetwood's sixth promotion in nine years.

"He rang me up actually when I was coming back in [from the pitch] and told me I'm rooming with him," Conor McLaughlin told Press Association Sport.

"It's a very proud moment for my family and they were all over at Wembley, they're very proud."

While the rest of the Cod Army team plan their holiday getaways this week, the McLaughlins will instead be focused on friendly fixtures against World Cup opposition in the shape of Uruguay and Chile - who they respectively meet on Saturday and next Thursday.

Conor McLaughlin has just one international cap, a baptism of fire which came when he was at Preston against four-time world champions Italy in 2011.

Now the likes of Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Alexis Sanchez await but the full-back is at least able to face up to such daunting challenges on the back of glory with his club.

"It's really hard to believe," he said.

"It's the best feeling I've had in football so far, I'll soak it up and I'm looking forward to getting a rest. It's a plus and we'll celebrate but it's a happy feeling going away.

"I'm off on a 13-hour flight to Uruguay so I can't rest just yet. Obviously I'm looking forward to that and then a good rest after that!"

With a host of senior figures such as Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt not available to O'Neill, the likes of the McLaughlin brothers and Accrington forward James Gray will be given opportunities to earn their international spurs.

The news that Conor McLaughlin was in the squad was greeted with delight by Fleetwood last Wednesday as it provided a further indication of their remarkable growth over the past decade.

However, the player himself was unaware he was making history in becoming the first player to receive an international call-up while on their books.

"Actually one of the lads said that to me a couple of days after I'd got called up," he admitted.

"Obviously it's a great honour and I'm looking forward to joining up with the lads."

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