Belfast Telegraph

'Special' Northern Ireland debut has left Shay McCartan craving more

By Steven Beacom

Shay McCartan has had a taste of international football and is determined to savour some more, insisting he will be ready to make his World Cup bow in Azerbaijan if called upon.

After impressing in training, the Accrington Stanley ace was handed his Northern Ireland debut, coming on as a second-half substitute in last week's 1-0 friendly success over New Zealand at Windsor Park.

The 23-year-old from Newry delivered a lively cameo and would love another run out in Baku, where vital Group C points will be at stake.

"I'd be delighted to get a chance out in Azerbaijan and will be ready if needed," said former Down Minor GAA player McCartan, preparing at a training camp in Turkey with the rest of the squad.

"We are second in the group and want to stay there so it is an important game for us.

"We know they won't be mugs and we have to take them seriously. It will be tough out there with the heat. It's good being in Turkey for the training camp as it gives us a chance to acclimatise."

Speaking about the experience of his Northern Ireland debut, McCartan said: "It was special. That's what I had been thinking about on the day, then we got on the bus and going to the ground you see the fans and the whole atmosphere kicked in.

"To make my debut at home was fantastic and it was great to get the win as well. I don't want to dwell on it too much though because I want to win more caps in the future and keep moving forward."

McCartan showed so much confidence at Windsor Park that senior professionals allowed him to take a free-kick just outside the box - a speciality of his at club level.

"The defender got a good block on it. I was excited to take it," he said.

"I've scored six free-kicks and feel if you don't shoot then you don't score, so hopefully there will be more free-kicks to come for Northern Ireland."

The former Glenavon ace added that it was a joy for him to work alongside Premier League stars, none more so than the Northern Ireland captain.

"Steven Davis is an incredible footballer," stated McCartan.

"You can see that in training. He just never gives the ball away and he is definitely someone I feel that I can learn a great deal from. He is so technical and so sharp in his mind about what to do.

"All the lads have been great to me since I joined up with the squad. There are some of them playing at the highest level in club football but they have just treated me the same and that has really helped me."

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