McNair is a ‘top-tier foot­baller’

The Chronicle - - Safc - By STU­ART RAYNER

MICHAEL O’Neill says he hopes Paddy McNair gets the chance to re­turn to the Premier League but his suit­ors will have to up their val­u­a­tion con­sid­er­ably af­ter Sun­der­land turned down a £2m bid from Brighton and Hove Al­bion.

McNair put in a man-of-the­match per­for­mance for North­ern Ire­land in Panama on Mon­day, and al­most as im­por­tantly got another 90 min­utes un­der his belt.

It high­lighted why the Black Cats are look­ing for far more than the “de­risory” of­fer they re­jected hours ear­lier.

When he fi­nally got a run of games at the end of last sea­son, the 23-year-old showed the qual­i­ties Sun­der­land would love to build a team around next sea­son. His en­er­getic run­ning, ae­rial pres­ence and eye for goals brought qual­i­ties the Black Cats’ mid­field had been se­ri­ously lack­ing as he re­cov­ered from a long-term in­jury, but also showed a player bet­ter than the level he is due to op­er­ate at in 2018-19.

“I hope his club sit­u­a­tion sorts it­self out,” North­ern Ire­land man­ager O’Neill said af­ter the 0-0 draw in Panama City. “I know what he is ca­pa­ble of.

“His run­ning power and qual­ity is ev­i­dent to see, and he is so de­ter­mined to get back to the Premier League and hope­fully he gets that chance.

“Paddy McNair is a Premier League player.

“The rea­son he isn’t is be­cause of his in­jury. He joined Sun­der­land when they were in the Premier League. He then had a bad in­jury and Sun­der­land were rel­e­gated.

“But you’ve seen the qual­ity in the last five or six games of the sea­son. He scored four or five goals at the end of last sea­son.”

Even be­fore he dam­aged his cru­ci­ate knee lig­a­ments in Novem­ber 2016, McNair had not had a reg­u­lar run of games since his sum­mer move from Manch­ester United.

On his re­turn he suf­fered a num­ber of mi­nor set­backs, mostly groin in­juries, as his body read­justed to the de­mands of reg­u­lar first-team foot­ball.

But af­ter re­turn­ing from the fi­nal in­ter­na­tional break of the sea­son, he played in all but one of the eight matches, scor­ing in four of the last five but per­form­ing im­pres­sively in all of them.

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