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Debuts don't come much more unnerving than the Manchester derby, but the 17-year-old Sammy McIlroy came through his baptism of fire with flying colours - scoring once and assisting twice at Maine Road to instantly endear himself to the United faithful.
The Northern Irish winger was Matt Busby’s final signing at Old Trafford, penning amateur forms with United in July 1969. He turned professional two years later before his derby bow on November 6, 1971. His emphatic entrance to the first-team setup didn’t seal a regular starting berth, and McIlroy largely remained a substitute for the next year. Seriously injured in a car accident in January 1973, he fought his way back into the team against all odds the following season to earn himself a regular place in the starting line-up. That season ended with the gloom of relegation, but McIlroy was a permanent and crucial fixture in the side that secured an instant return to the top flight. His domestic importance was matched on the international scene, and he went on to win 88 caps for Northern Ireland. Sammy remained an integral part of the Reds side which went to Wembley three times in four years in the late 1970s. He tasted heartbreak in the 1976 and 1979 defeats to Southampton and Arsenal, although he did score a fine equaliser in the latter final. That disappointment sandwiched United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in 1977, the only major honour of Sammy’s 11-year Reds career. Ron Atkinson sold McIlroy to Stoke City for £350,000 in 1982. Three years later he moved back to Manchester to join City on a free transfer before moving into management. Spells with Northwich Victoria, Ashton United and Macclesfield Town preceded the role of Northern Ireland boss, before Sammy took over at Stockport County, then Morecambe.