McCourt is happy to be back on the samba beat with Reds

Barnsley's Paddy McCourt
Barnsley's Paddy McCourt
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IT was just like watching Brazil for Barnsley fans in 1996-97 – and the ‘Derry Pele’ is ensuring the samba beat is going on again at Oakwell.

The nickname of winger Paddy McCourt, for whom the term mercurial was seemingly made for, is a prescient one judging by some of his mesmerising recent Reds’ contributions, with the 29-year-old rapidly assuming cult hero status just as he did at Celtic.

Straggly-haired and bohemian in appearance, McCourt, complete with indie rock star looks, soon made the right notes with the Jungle faithful.

While consistency was not always his strong point north of the border, the sporadic pleasure he provided during some magical moments in the green-and-white hoops ensured he will also be remembered fondly in the east end of Glasgow.

Mazy dribbles and wonder goals frequented his Celtic CV during a five-year spell at Parkhead, much evidence of which can be seen on You Tube with the Northern Ireland international also feted with his own personal song.

The ditty, to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus’s classic Achy Breaky Heart, spoke about Celtic having a riot on their hands if they sold the crowd favourite.

The old-fashioned wingman may have ultimately left Parkhead this summer, but he is creating a serious sense of disorder among Championship defences on recent evidence.

McCourt’s strike against Middlesbrough three weeks ago when he slalomed through six Boro players as if they were not there was a thing of sublime beauty.

Another almost followed against Sheffield Wednesday and Reds fans will be hoping McCourt has something special in his locker this afternoon.

They will hope he can match a famous virtuoso goal from Jamal Campbell-Ryce against derby rivals Doncaster Rovers in October, 2008 when they hit four goals while playing with ten men in a 4-1 win.

The signing of McCourt, who turned down more lucrative Championship offers and a move to the MLS to join the Reds, is starting to look an inspired one by David Flitcroft.

The Lancastrian was a team-mate of McCourt’s at Rochdale in the early 2000s – he was signed from Foyle Harps in 2001 – and Flitcroft’s personal touch ensured the winger beat a path to Oakwell and not elsewhere.

Signing McCourt involved plenty of work, but somehow managing to cajole the best out of the gifted winger consistently and keep him in pristine condition is an even bigger hurdle for Flitcroft.

It is something a number of managers have wrestled with but the signs are looking good at Oakwell.

On the importance of the Flitcroft factor for McCourt, on a 12-month deal in South Yorkshire the winger said: “I spoke to a few Championship clubs. But, to be fair, knowing the manager here probably was the thing that swung me to come here.

“I have known him since I was 17 or 18 and know what he’s about as a guy and a character.

“I really liked what he had to say in the summer and he said: ‘I can see you fitting in my team – it’s about you getting back playing this year.’ Luckily enough, it’s happening.

“When I was at Rochdale as a young player, he was very good. When you are a young lad, things like that stick.

“He’s a good person as well and while he’s new to managing himself, he took to it very well last season and worked a minor miracle keeping the team in the Championship from the position they were in, in January.

“More on a personal level, he’s good at managing as well and seems to be getting the best out of the players he’s got.

“I have kept in touch with him over the years, even though my career went one way and his went another.

“Getting a call from him in the summer, it was good to chat to him. If I hadn’t had that personal bond with him, I would have chosen another bigger club for more money.

“I am sure he has followed my career and I have enjoyed being back working with him. Hopefully, we can get a few more wins to pull us out of that relegation zone.

“I am enjoying it. It was important, wherever I went, to be playing regularly.

“Barnsley contacted me in the summer about coming down and having a look. It got to mid-August and I came down for a week and enjoyed being with the lads and ended up signing.”

McCourt’s first spell in England ended when he was freed by Dale boss and former Barnsley chief Steve Parkin in 2005 before rebuilding his career across the Irish Sea prior to being signed by then Hoops manager Gordon Strachan from home-town club Derry City three years later.

Despite able to bank on the support of fans, McCourt struggled to shake off the tag of ‘luxury player’ at Celtic, just as he did under Parkin in his formative years at Spotland. It is a label he thinks is a bit unfair.

Flitcroft recently spoke about Celtic coaching staff contacting him and professing their surprise that he had made McCourt defensively proficient at the pressing game. Whatever he has said, has been clearly paying off.

But it is glorious efforts like his goal in the key 3-2 win against Boro which have made him box office with Barnsley punters, who will hope he signs an extended deal.

Of the goal agsainst Boro, whose former manager Tony Mowbray tried to sign him for West Brom just before he moved to Celtic, McCourt said: “I have been fortunate to have scored a few good goals but that Middlesbrough one was right up there and I did enjoy it.

“I wasn’t enjoying the first half-hour to be honest as I wasn’t feeling too good. But I was lucky I managed to get the goal and came off not long after and we got three points which was massive for us.”

McCourt, who admits he is still not 100 per cent yet due to a ‘wee niggle’ said: “I’m still getting used to playing regularly, Saturday-Tuesday and am still carrying a wee knock. Once I get that all cleared up, hopefully there will be a lot more to come.

“People say about me: ‘He’s a luxury player’ and this and that. But if someone asks me to defend, I’ll do it. I’m not saying I am the best at it or you will get the best of me going forward if I am doing it. But if the manager wants me to do it, I’ll do it for the team.”