CONOR McLaughlin’s Irish eyes are smiling again after being given the chance to play a part in Shrewsbury Town’s promotion push.
The Belfast-born 20-year-old has found first team chances hard to come by at Preston North End recently so he took little persuading to make the switch to the Greenhous Meadow on a two-month loan.
The highly rated utility man, already a senior Northern Ireland international, is excited about the prospect of playing more regular first team football and is just pleased he attracted the attention of Town boss Graham Turner.
“As soon as I heard about coming to Shrewsbury I was very excited and wanted to come down and play games,” said McLaughlin. “I haven’t had that many this season at Preston.
“I started the season in the first team but have been in and out. I just want to get a regular run of games and hopefully I’m going to get that here and help Shrewsbury push on for promotion.”
He admits a felt “a bit rusty” in his first couple of matches but he’s settled in quickly and has been warmly welcomed into the Town fold.
“You’re quite nervous when you come in and meet everyone but the lads have been brilliant with me,” he said. “They’re really welcomed me so it’s been an easy transition.”
He slotted into the Town team at left back to cover the injured Joe Jacobson but revealed that right back, where he lined up against Burton last weekend, is his strongest position.
“I’m mainly a right back but left back isn’t alien to me,” he said. “I’ve played there a few times at Preston. This season at Preston I’ve played every position apart from striker and goalkeeper, but it’s useful to be able to play in different positions.”
McLaughlin’s current focus is firmly on doing well for Shrewsbury but his long term goal is shining for Preston, the club where he emerged from the youth team ranks.
He said: “I came over when I was 16 and got my first professional contract there.
“I made my debut at the start of last season and broke my leg against Bristol City six games in.
“That was unfortunate but I managed to get myself fit.”
Phil Brown, the ex-Hull City boss, gave him his first team opportunity at Deepdale and now he needs to impress Graham Westley, the former Stevenage manager, who recently took over the reins.
“Different managers have different ideas,” he stressed. “I’ve just got to work hard and show that I’m good enough to get into his team.
“Hopefully I’ll show that here and be in his plans for next season.”
McLaughlin, who played against Argentine star Carlos Tevez in a reserve team friendly for Preston at Manchester City’s training ground a few days before joining Town, is no stranger to facing big name opposition.
Having been capped by Northern Ireland at under-21 level, he was handed his senior debut when he came on as a substitute away to Italy in Pescara in October. It was Nigel Worthington’s last match in charge.
He’s now keen to stay involved with the full squad under recently appointed national team boss Michael O’Neill.
McLaughlin insisted: “That’s the highlight of my career so far, playing against people like Pirlo and Buffon. It was unbelievable.
“I had to pinch myself just sitting on the bench in the first half looking at them and there were 30,000 there that night.
“I wasn’t expecting to be involved at senior level this early. But a few defenders pulled out and I managed to get in the squad with a few other young lads and ended up coming on in centre midfield.”
He kept his own Irish shirt but swapped his spare shirt with Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi, the Roma ace.
“I was on standby for the last squad against Norway recently,” he added.
“Hopefully I can get some games here and push for that as well.
“I was very grateful to Nigel Worthington for giving me my chance.
“We’ve got a new manager now so hopefully I can force my way into his plans as well.”