Soccer

Aaron Donnelly wants to ensure debut cap is first of many for Northern Ireland

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Aaron Donnelly has revealed his pride at becoming the latest young talent to make his debut for Northern Ireland.

The 21-year-old came off the bench midway through the second half of Tuesday’s 2-0 friendly win over Andorra, a match which saw 19-year-old Callum Marshall make his first international start three days after Caolan Boyd-Munce made his debut in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Spain.

“I’m extremely proud,” Donnelly said. “To make your debut for your country is something else, it’s an exceptional feeling.

“I just tried to go out and enjoy myself throughout the game. There were lots of lads out there I’ve played with previously which helped as well, Dale Taylor who I’ve worked with every day at (Nottingham) Forest and it’s great to play with boys you’ve been playing with for a long time.

“I think it makes it a lot more special. I’ve played with Dale and Brodie (Spencer) a long time and it shows if you put in the hard work you get the rewards.

“I was chatting to Dale after the game and where we’ve come from is excellent, and I just hope we push on to play many more times for my country.

“I think I’m just trying to get back to my club, getting games under my belt and showing (boss) Michael (O’Neill) and his coaching staff I’m able to play at the level, and just try to get more caps under my belt.”

Conor Bradley remains the gold standard for Northern Ireland’s youngsters and it was the 20-year-old Liverpool man who scored both of his team’s goals in the first half.

“Even (Bradley), I’ve played with him through the ranks,” Donnelly added. “He deserved his two goals. He’s been excellent for country and club towards the end of the season. To get a clean sheet, it was a really good performance.”

Before attention turns fully to the Nations League campaign that starts in September, O’Neill said he had been keen to reward players with an opportunity to play at the end of what has been a long but productive warm-weather training camp in Spain.

“They’ve been away now for 12 or 13 days, so it’s a big commitment we’ve asked of them, so you want to try to reward them and give them a cap which we’ve been able to do,” the manager said.

“The onus is now for them to go back to their clubs, perform well and stay in the team. Playing regularly for your club is a big part of being selected for the international squad, so they’ll have to go back and make sure they’re in good shape for their respective clubs.

“Some players come September will have new clubs, so there’s a lot of transition in the summer, but the great thing is it’s been a very positive camp for us.”