He’s the Carnlough kid who’s off to Ipswich Town with the words of Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers ringing in his ears, writes John Gillespie.
Sixteen-year-old Conor McKendry begins a two-year scholarship at Portman Road this summer and the talented winger knows the hard work, on the path to realising his dream of becoming a top player, has only just begun.
Anfield supremo Rodgers, a family friend who hails from the same coastal East Antrim village, has proved an inspiration for the former Larne Youth player.
“Brendan’s hard work, dedication and continued success has given me the courage to pursue a career in football,” said the St Killian’s College pupil. “He has always told me that working hard is the only way to achieve your goals, so, from a young, age I adopted that attitude.”
He added: “I am thrilled to be starting on a new journey and I’m very excited about the times ahead. From a young age, I’ve always dreamed of how, one day, I’d love to pursue a career in football and I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. But this is only the beginning and I will have to continue to work hard to compete.”
McKendry owes much of his development as a player to coaches Darrin Crawford (Larne Youth), Neil McKee (St Oliver Plunkett), Mark Pollock (Glenavon U19s), Pete Batey (Glenavon reserves) and, latterly, Nigel Law and Gary Hamilton, who handed him his debut with the Lurgan Blues first-team this season.
Now the Northern Ireland U17s player has his heart set on catching the eye of Tractor Boys’ boss Mick McCarthy.
“My two-year scholarship begins in July and although the move away from home and family will be a great change, I can’t wait to take the next step. The prospects of meeting new people and playing against new teams is all very exciting.
“My ambition is to be the best player I can be. To play at the highest level and compete against the best players in the world.”