Caolan Lavery, the Owls striker, dreams of playing a leading role in Northern Ireland’s attempts to qualify for the 2016 European Championships.
The 22-year-old, who started Wednesday’s final seven Championship matches of the 2014/15 season, was named in Michael O’Neill’s 28-man squad ahead of their tussles against Qatar and Romania last Thursday.
You have to go back to 1986 for the last time Northern Ireland competed in a major tournament and uncapped forward Lavery is desperate to help them end that long wait.
He told The Star: “It would mean the world to me to help Northern Ireland get to France.
“Every player dreams of playing for their country as it is the biggest honour there is and I’m no different. If I was to help a play a part in qualifying or be involved in the Championships, it would be something I would never forget.”
Boss O’Neill wanted Lavery to go on the South America tour last summer but he pulled out of the provisional squad because of his brother’s wedding.
Lavery said: “I got called up last summer and I was absolutely delighted but I knew, at the same time, in the back of my head that I wouldn’t be able to make it because it was my brother’s wedding.
“It would have maybe been different had I not been a part of the wedding but I was the best man and I had responsibilities I had to commit to so I had to tell Northern Ireland that unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the trip.
“It was disappointing for me but, I knew at the same time, if I kept on doing what I was doing that I could possibly get a chance again and luckily I have been given another call-up.”
Lavery, one of eight strikers selected in O’Neill’s squad, will join up with the rest of the Northern Ireland squad today in Manchester in preparation for Sunday’s friendly with Qatar at Crewe’s Gresty Road.
“I know I have to perform and impress the manager in training every day,” he said. “He has included a lot of strikers so I know it is down to me now whether I play a part in any of the games.
“It will be a matter of working hard and showing him [O’Neill] that I deserve to be the second or third striker. It is up to me to show him I am ready to be a part of the team for the future. I am looking forward to the challenge.”
After the Qatar clash, Northern Ireland take on the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in a behind-closed-doors training match where Lavery could come face-to-face with Wednesday teammate Keiren Westwood.
O’Neill’s men then welcome European Championship Group F leaders Romania to Belfast on June 13. Northern Ireland currently sit in second place, one point adrift of Romania.
Lavery, who enjoyed a productive loan stint at Chesterfield last season, said: “It is a big game for the country. A lot of people are claiming it is one of the biggest games in the last 20 years.
“We have beaten some big nations, including Greece away from home so the boys are together and full of confidence. We are on the up and, if we win this game, it will set us up nicely for our remaining four games.
“It is not a make or break game but it would definitely be a good one to win.”