EXCITING Tristar Boys prospect, Lee Harkin has been tipped for stardom by his Super Cup NI coach with Manchester United scouts amongst those keeping a close eye on his development.
The gifted Hazelbank lad lit up the prestigious youth football competition with a memorable double against United in a stunning 2-1 win at the Coleraine Showgrounds which rocketed him to prominence last summer.
He went on to star against Club NI in another Junior Section match at Anderson Park as he bamboozled several defenders with a magnificent drag-back before his audacious long distance effort from wide on the right clipped the post in a game the Derry side lost 2-0.
His heroics have earned him a first call-up to Paul Osman’s Republic of Ireland U16 squad which travels to Sofia for a double-header against Bulgaria next week as he gets his first taste of international football.
It’s just another stage in his football development and having been offered over to Man United for a second trial next month, the future certainly looks bright for the 15 year-old Derry lad.
The Red Devils certainly appear keen having invited Lee and his parents over as guests to Old Trafford for the recent 3-0 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur.
Another Premiership club, newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers are also said to be keeping tabs on his progression with scouts aware of the Derry starlet’s undoubted potential.
There’s certainly no doubting he’s got an abundance of natural ability, showcased in the Super Cup NI with his signature drag-backs and pirouettes as he stole the headlines.
And Co. Derry Head Coach, Martin Smith, who worked with the diminutive midfielder for almost 10 weeks in the build-up to the tournament, has no doubt he can make it to the top and insists he wouldn’t be surprised to be watching the youngster on his TV screen in the next five years!
As a Man United season ticket holder, Smith, who recently completed his UEFA B licence coaching badges, believes to see him sign for the Premiership giants would be rewarding.
“There’s no question that he has the ability to make a career for himself,” said Smith. “He doesn’t feel like he should be treated any different than anybody else in training. Whatever you ask him to do he’ll do it.
“He has a really good attitude and is really easy to work with,” added Smith who is also a Youth Intervention worker in Lettershandoney.
“He’s small and light made up but he’s really, really quick which helps him. I suppose he will need to get a bit stronger but that will come - he’s only 15 and has a good bit of development to go.
“For a player with his ability, he also works extremely hard as well. He definitely mucks in and does the dirty work as well. He’s young but has a lot going for him and he has a good chance of doing well for himself. He’s not one of those high maintenance players he’s really down to earth and will do everything you ask to the best of his ability.
“If he keeps his head down, looks after himself and keeps progressing the way he should be then he has a really good chance.
“There’s no reason, if he continues to develop, you won’t be watching him on TV in the next four or five years.
“But it’s going to come down to him. Like everyone at that age group, when everything else comes into play and all the distractions that he’ll face, it needs focus.
“We knew he was capable of it. We had a really strong squad but you’re not going to see many better than what he is at 15. I’ve never seen it and I said to the other coaches; ‘We’re never going to see this again’ in terms of what we’re working with.”
While Lee is quiet in demeanour, his self-belief surprised Smith during the Super Cup NI.
“He’s really, really humble but confident in his own ability. I remember we were playing United and we went for a walk on the morning of the game.
“I was speaking to Lee one-to-one and said to him about the United game and he told me we’ll beat them straight away without a smile on his face. I asked him how many he’d score and he said ‘two’. I told him to give me one and I’d be happy with one but he scored the two and we won 2-1 that night.
“He’s not ahead of himself but I think that comes from his parents who are quite grounded with him as well.”
When Ireland U16 boss, Osman announced his 19 man squad this week, Lee was one of just five players named who ply their trade outside the SSE Airtiricty League.
And given the fact the other four players represent Man City, Middlesbrough, West Brom and bizarrely, Real Betis; Tristar Boys FC and Lee stood out as the sole representative from Northern Ireland.