Belfast Telegraph

Best feeling ever: Northern Ireland midfielder Aaron Heap makes Oxford United debut alongside Gavin Whyte

Northern Ireland's Aaron Heap has made his first-team debut for Oxford United.
Northern Ireland's Aaron Heap has made his first-team debut for Oxford United.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Gavin Whyte is fast becoming the star of Oxford United and now he has a fellow Northern Irishman playing alongside him.

NI U19 midfielder Aaron Heap made his long-awaited first team debut in Tuesday evening's 3-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers in the Football League Trophy.

Heap, from Bletchington near Oxford, has come up through the ranks at his local club and made the significant step when he was brought on as an 83rd minute substitute at Adams Park.

“It means the world, especially as I’ve been here for ten years," he said. “It’s incredible, the best feeling ever, I’ve dreamed of this for so long and now it’s actually happened. I’m buzzing.”

It caps a great week for the 17-year-old, who received his second call-up to the Northern Ireland set-up on Monday.

Heap had been placed on standby for Wales U19s in September but Northern Ireland then swooped in with a call-up. He made his U19s debut as a substitute in the first of a double-header against Slovakia at Shamrock Park, starting the second game just two days later and helping his side to a 4-1 win at the Newry Showgrounds.

“Aaron works so hard and we are all delighted," said Oxford Academy manager Dan Harris after his first call-up. "I thought he had an outstanding game for the under 23s at Southend in midweek and to have two national sides watching him speaks volumes. It’s also a great thing for everyone at the Academy to know that people are monitoring how our players are progressing.”

Heap has now been included in Stephen Frail's panel for three upcoming Euro U19 qualifiers against Poland, Serbia and Kazakhstan next week.

As Heap made his Oxford debut, Whyte was part of a front three that manager Karl Robinson described as 'unplayable'. He even provided the cross for Cameron Brannagan to head the visitors in front just 21 seconds into the game.

Stephen Frail's latest U19 panel includes seven Irish League players. Three Cliftonville players - Aaron Donnelly, Caoimhin McConnell and Declan Dunne (on loan at Portadown) - have been named alongside Luke Wilson, Kofi Balmer, Jordan Jenkins and Jack O'Mahony.

Northern Ireland U19 squad to face Poland, Serbia and Kazakhstan

Goalkeepers: Declan Dunne (Portadown, on loan from Cliftonville), Ollie Webber (Crystal Palace).

Defenders: Jack O’Mahony (Harland And Wolff Welders, on loan from Glenavon), Aaron Donnelly (Cliftonville), Kofi Balmer (Ballymena United), Daniel Finlayson (Rangers), Sean Graham (Blackpool), Tom Leighton (Watford), Ethan Patterson (Aston Villa).

Midfielders: Alfie McCalmont (Leeds United), Harry Robinson (Oldham Athletic), Luke Wilson (Portadown), Cameron Palmer (Rangers), Caoimhin McConnell (Cliftonville), Aaron Heap (Oxford United), Ethan Galbraith (Manchester United).

Forwards: Tyrone Lewthwaite (Rotherham United), Liam Smyth (Stevenage), Jordan Jenkins (Glenavon), Lewis McCann (Dunfermline).

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