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Paul Paton is thrilled to step out of the wilderness

By Steven Beacom

Published 26/03/2016

Change of plan: Paul Paton cancelled a holiday with his girlfriend after his late inclusion in the Northern Ireland squad
Change of plan: Paul Paton cancelled a holiday with his girlfriend after his late inclusion in the Northern Ireland squad

Paul Paton is overjoyed to have come in from the cold to stake a claim for a spot in Northern Ireland's squad for the Euro 2016 finals.

The Green and White Army could have been forgiven for thinking the 28-year-old Dundee United midfielder's time as an international was up, but on Thursday night he came off the bench in the 1-1 draw against Wales to win his second cap - his previous appearance came against Uruguay two years ago.

What made his introduction even more surprising was that the IFA had failed to announce that he had even been called into the squad after not being included when boss Michael O'Neill named his original panel earlier this month.

Paton has had a renaissance at club level after making the headlines for the wrong reasons last year when he was fined £500 after pleading guilty to hitting former Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska following a night out in Glasgow in October 2014.

In Paton's defence his lawyer stated he was provoked by abuse and there was no injury to the victim. Paton, fined four weeks' wages by his club, stated that he regretted what had happened.

At the time questions were raised about the player's future, but he has battled back to become Dundee United's most influential player and is now captain of the club. Given that he played against Wales, he is back in the frame for a trip to France in the summer.

"Being back is a big boost for me. Ever since I first came into the squad, the boys have been absolutely brilliant," said Paton.

"It feels like a club side; it's fantastic. I can't speak highly enough of the players and Michael O'Neill.

"I was supposed to be going to Portugal with my girlfriend last Sunday until Thursday but then I got the call from Michael. I didn't think twice about cancelling the holiday because not every player is lucky enough to be involved in international football and it is something I've really missed.

"It's great to be back with the Northern Ireland squad and be over my injuries. I've played a lot of games for Dundee United and I picked up a Player of the Month award in Scotland and I'm captain of the club now.

"It has been a hard few years. Since the South America tour I was involved in the Hungary game on the bench and I was in the squad for the Faroe Islands and Greece games but since then it has been hard.

"It's never easy watching and thinking you could be involved but I don't expect myself to be a mainstay player for the country but I will keep working hard to try to impress Michael and hopefully be a regular in the squad. I was over the moon when we qualified. I texted a few of them and I was delighted for them.

"It's important I go back to Dundee United and try to help them get out of the situation as we are at the bottom of the table. Hopefully things go our way."

Belfast Telegraph

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