Oxford midfielder Gavin Whyte said it would “mean the world” if he makes his Northern Ireland debut this week.
The 22-year-old was a late addition to Michael O’Neill’s squad, being promoted from the Under-21s after an impressive start to the season.
He is now hoping to feature in either Saturday’s UEFA Nations League opener against Bosnia & Herzegovina or Tuesday’s friendly against Israel.
“It would mean the world to me and mean the world to my family,” Whyte said. “This is why you play the game, to make your international debut.
“I’m just hoping that comes and if it doesn’t you just keep working hard to get that chance to come.”
Whyte’s call-up came after he scored three goals in six appearances to start his career with Oxford, having made the move from Belfast club Crusaders in the summer.
“I didn’t really expect it this soon,” Whyte said of the call-up. “I got the email to go on the Under-21s trip but my agent said, ‘Keep your phone on, you never know’.
“Then I got the message to say I was in the (senior) squad and I rang my mum and she was over the moon. It’s been a crazy couple of months but the best couple of months.”
After scoring 21 league goals for Crusaders last season, Whyte was linked with Championship high-flyers Leeds early in the summer but believes League One Oxford can be the better move for him – with this senior call-up another good sign.
“I had a lot of interest from clubs but it was always about picking the right one with a chance of playing,” he said.
“If I went to Leeds I would have been training with the first team and playing with the Under-23s. I didn’t want to do that. I felt I was capable of going in at a high level and playing, so I believe I made the right choice.”
Whyte said making the transition had been tough at first, but he is now finding his way in the routine of English league football.
“It has been hard,” he said. “My body wasn’t really taking it well. I was only training Tuesday and Thursday for Crusaders, but this is a different level – two games a week, training every day. But it’s what I always wanted to do. I’m just about getting used to it now. It’s been brilliant.”
He now needs to make a similar step up as he adjusts from the Northern Ireland Under-21s to the senior squad.
“Training has been incredible,” Whyte said. “I’ve only trained three times but it’s so quick and you can see how good they are. It’s been brilliant and it will help my game.
“Michael is keeping up to date with my progress and he tells me to keep playing my own game and show no fear.”
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