Rising star McLaughlin at home on big stage
HE has moved out of James McClean's shadow to a position where he is being tipped to follow in his footsteps, but Stephen McLaughlin is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
The free-scoring winger has, perhaps, been the success story of Derry City's topsy-turvy 2012.
McLaughlin, a late developing 22-year-old from nearby Donegal, has bagged a staggering 17 goals in 23 games this season -- giving him a total of 37 in just 74 outings.
He is a throwback to the touchline-hugging wingers of old, and Sunday's FAI Cup final gives him a chance to shine on the domestic game's biggest stage.
"I love the big stage," McLaughlin said. "Just coming out and showing people what I can do. I start every week and I'm loving it. I'm really enjoying myself and I think that's why I've had good performances.
"This season, I've let go a wee bit and it means I can express myself more in games -- I love doing that."
McLaughlin netted twice in Derry's semi-final replay win at Shelbourne. To those who watched him with his local Clonmany Shamrocks in the Inishowen League, it is no surprise that this young star continues to rise.
Snapped up by Finn Harps, it didn't take him long to become a regular. A couple of games against City and then manager Stephen Kenny was on his tail.
"It wasn't a big decision to make," McLaughlin said. I was used to scoring goals when I was with Clonmany, but the step up was hard.
"I didn't want to be making mistakes and that was a big thing for me when I first moved into senior football."
Having cut his League of Ireland teeth with Harps, he found it hard to get a regular look-in at Derry. Then again, he had a certain McClean ahead of him in the pecking order.
"James was unreal, he was brilliant every week," he said. "It's a lot harder (on the sidelines) if you're watching someone play badly. I stuck it out, got my chance and I think I've taken it."
Dedicating himself 100pc to the task was necessary. A part-time job maintaining the greens at Ballyliffin Golf Club was shelved.
"You have to do that if you want to be successful," he said. "It's demanding, but we all enjoy it. This is my job, but I don't look at it as my job -- it's my hobby, playing football. I love coming in every day."
McLaughlin has been linked with a cross-channel move, but the thoughts of emulating McClean haven't troubled the Inishowen man.
Burnley were reported to have had an interest, but he shrugs off the notion.
"A lot of rumours go about, but it's just that -- rumour. I won't worry too much until something concrete comes up. I just play the game."