Northern Ireland international Shay McCartan banging in the goals for Down GAA club Glenn

Northern Ireland international and former Down minor Shay McCartan during his spell with Lincoln City
Andy Watters

NORTHERN Ireland soccer international Shay McCartan scored goals in all three league games since making a comeback for his club Glenn John Martin's at the start of this season and now looks set to make his Down senior championship debut against Bryansford at Pairc Esler on Sunday.

McCartan – capped twice by the North under Michael O'Neill – has an impressive GAA pedigree and won the MacRory and Hogan Cups with St Colman's College in 2010 alongside current Down senior stars including Caolan Mooney, Donal O'Hare, Niall McParland (a clubmate at the Division 2B outfit), Niall Donnelly and Jerome and Ryan Johnston.

He had signed for Burnley that year, 12 months after fellow Glenn clubman Liam Bagnall had gone to Sunderland. Bagnall is now playing his football for Cliftonville and is part of the Glenn management team. After one first appearance at Turf Moor, versatile midfielder/striker and dead ball specialist McCartan went on to enjoy successful spells at Accrington Stanley, Lincoln City and Bradford City before returning to his GAA roots when he was released by League Two club outfit Bradford in May.

The former Glenavon youth team star transferred to Bradford City in 2017 and contributed four goals as the Bantams progressed to ninth in League Two (just outside the play-off places) before the season was suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The clubs subsequently took the decision to cancel the season and with budget cuts and wage caps now introduced for League One and League Two clubs, McCartan was released in May. He linked up with last year's Down Intermediate champions after lockdown regulations allowed training to resume, something he had done regularly when he'd returned home.

“In the past when he was home he would have trained a few times with us,” said Glenn manager Tony Bagnall.

“Everyone at the club is delighted to see him getting a few games for us. He's a great player and it's a massive bonus for Glenn to have him.”

McCartan played “all over the forward line” for his club in their brief three-out-of-three league campaign that saw them top Division 2B ahead of Longstone and, although his stay could be brief with cross-channel and Irish soccer clubs likely to be interested in signing the 26-year-old, Glenn manager Bagnall is enjoying it while it lasts.

Anyone who was at the Athletic Grounds back in May 2011 would have earmarked McCartan as a future Down senior star.

The pacey, skilful frontman scored a first half hat-trick in a topsy-turvy Ulster minor championship thriller against Down's auld enemy which the Mourne youngsters lost despite finding Armagh's net five times. It finished 3-11 to 5-4 and a promising talent looked to have been lost to the GAA until McCartan's unexpected return to club football.

Meanwhile, rumours that McCartan's former St Colman's College and Down minor team-mate is on the verge of a transfer from Rostrevor to Downpatrick are wide of the mark. The Irish News understands that Down wing-back Mooney will be in the St Bronagh's side that takes on Downpatrick in the Down championship in Castlewellan on Friday night.

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