If James McClean is the ace in the pack that Martin O'Neill turns to when a spark is needed, then we should be able to say the exact same thing for Paddy McCourt and Michael O'Neill this month. Anyone who has watched the 'Derry Pelé' tear into defences in Ireland, Scotland or England over the past ten years will know just how much of a devastating effect McCourt can have.
It may not always happen, but when he's in full flow, there's few more enjoyable sights in football. So when it appeared that McCourt was a persona non grata for Michael O'Neill and his Euro 2016 squad, there were quite a few heads scratched. Granted, he was no longer at the level that he once was but, playing regularly for Luton, he had been a regular in the qualifying campaign for Northern Ireland and he could/should have been the perfect option for Michael O'Neill to turn to in the last half an hour of a tight contest.
Instead, there was to be no mention of McCourt when the squad was announced. Not long after, Luton confirmed that McCourt had been released 'to face up to some personal problems'. A move back to Ireland was mooted and it looked like that would be that. A case of out of favour for club and country and a move back home for the 32 year old to finish out his career. The reality is rather different.
Speaking to Oliver Kay of the Times, McCourt has explained that his wife, Laura, underwent brain surgery to remove a tumour the day before the tournament began. Although it meant keeping fans in the dark, McCourt was adamant that he didn't want to announce the reason behind his absence until he had good news to report. Now he's able to do that.
It's too early to be complacent of course, but Laura's surgery has been a success and McCourt has absolutely no regrets about the decision to concentrate on his wife and kids despite the fact that is only chance at an international tournament was about to pass him by.
We were told that the tumour was benign, but it was growing and it had caused these seizures and it was a real worry. They said they could operate to remove it and we agreed it was definitely the right thing to do. The date they came back with was June 9. From my point of view, that changed nothing. Family has always come first and it always will.
Michael O'Neill would likely have been delighted to turn to McCourt if he could but when the Northern Irish boss was told the reasons for the former Celtic winger's self imposed exile, he was as understanding as you'd expect.
As much as he’s incredibly serious about his football, when I told him, he said, ‘Don’t even think about the Euros. Just be there for Laura and make sure she gets better.’
A major tournament isn't in McCourt's plan. That's regrettable of course but as McCourt himself says 'football is important, but family is what matters most'. Thankfully, we're able to report the good news on Laura's surgery and, like all football fans on this island, she has our very best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. As for McCourt's footballing future, don't be surprised to see him in a League of Ireland ground near you sooner rather than later.