Alex Bruce begging Northern Ireland fans to forgive
Alex Bruce is ready to prove he is fully committed to Northern Ireland seven years after choosing the Republic of Ireland ahead of them – but knows he has a fight on his hands to win over suspicious supporters.
The Hull City defender, whose grandmother was born in Bangor, made his Republic debut against Ecuador in 2007 and after only one more friendly appearance in the following 12 months, he became an outcast.
Former Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington set the ball rolling to pluck the 28-year old from the international wilderness before he handed over the reins to Michael O'Neill a year ago.
O'Neill is almost certain to add to the 30 players he has already used in the past year and Bruce is set to make his second international debut tomorrow night in Malta.
He has already been cast into the role of pantomime villain by a small section of the Green and White army, given his original decision to turn his back on the country of his grandmother's birth but he believes he can prove he has finally made the right decision.
"I'm not naïve enough to not be aware that it is an issue having played for the Republic but the past is the past and I want to look forward to my future," said the 28-year old, who is likely to make his second international debut in Malta tonight.
"I have been given a fantastic opportunity by Northern Ireland to play international football and this is a short career so I jumped at it.
"Nigel Worthington originally made the call to me and I was so pleased and Michael O'Neill has taken the bull by the horns.
"Some of the lads have given me a little bit of stick, too, but that is great and it has all been tongue in cheek.
"When it comes to playing in front of the fans, I just want the chance to show them what I can do.
"I don't worry about pressure; I have had it all my life and especially with my manager also being my dad at Hull.
"It is water off a duck's back to me and even if there are things said in the crowd, you are oblivious to it on the pitch."
Bruce is desperate to repay the faith O'Neill has already shown in him and only for an injury jinx every time an international date comes around, he could already have earned two Nortern Ireland caps instead of becoming an armchair fan at home.
The former Ipswich Town and Leeds United defender managed to travel to Portugal nursing a knock before having to return to Hull City, forcing him to miss the the historic 1-1 in October.
"I have been unfortunate so far that when I have been called up to play for Northern Ireland it has coincided with the two injures I have suffered this season," he added.
"To be honest, I feel as though I have let Michael O'Neill down a little bit because I haven't been able to play but hopefully this can be the start for me and I would love to get some game time here in Malta.
"I felt bad about Portugal but when I watched it on the TV I was really cheering for the lads but so frustrated I couldn't be a part of it.
"I injured my groin just before the trip and I only had one little running session before the squad was due to meet up and I hadn't done any proper ball work or twisting and turning.
"But I was desperate to meet up with the rest of the lads and I thought I had to be there to give it a go because of the faith Michael – and Nigel Worthington before him – had put in me.
"I gave it a go but we knew straight away the game was going to be a step to far but hopefully that is all behind me know.
"I have had a total nightmare when it comes to international all-ups this season but I want to show what I can do for Northern Ireland and hopefully give the manager more options for when the World Cup qualifiers begin again next month – and I will be praying there are no more injuries!
"This game is certainly important to us because we can prepare for the games coming up next month and it gives players like me the opportunity to get used to how the manager wants us to play."
Bruce may have to convince the fans, but he is certainly to stranger to several of Michael O'Neill's side, having played with Corry Evans at Hull for the past year and was already friends with others in the side.
He added: "I see Corry every day and obviously we have talked about Northern Ireland quite a bit. Jonny Evans lives quite close to me, too, so I have known him for a while. I also played with Gareth McAuley at Ipswich and further back than that I was a team-mate of Chris Brunt's at Sheffield Wednesday.
"They made sure I settled in straight away and to be honest, the bit of banter about my past has probably helped that."