Brown is hungry for more after first taste of big time
N Ireland v Germany, Euro 2020 Qualifying Group C: Windsor Park, Monday, 7.45pm
At the start of last year Ciaron Brown was playing in the sixth tier of English football with Wealdstone in National League South. On Thursday night the young defender made his international debut for Northern Ireland, helping keep a clean sheet with a solid display in a 1-0 friendly victory against Luxembourg at Windsor Park.
Born in London and with a Belfast mum, the Cardiff City ace had never represented Northern Ireland at any level prior to being called into Ian Baraclough's under-21 set-up this week.
Injuries in central defence and Michael O'Neill's desire to keep Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart fresh for Monday's vital Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany led to Brown being called into the senior ranks and before he knew it he was winning his first cap.
"I got told on Wednesday that I'd be involved, maybe on the bench, and then I got told on Thursday morning that I was starting and I kind of had to double check he said my name," said Brown, a modest guy off the pitch and unmistakeable on it thanks to his ponytail.
"I was a bit nervous before the game, walking out, but as soon as that whistle goes and you make your first pass, it kind of leaves your body and you're just playing your game.
"The manager said to just play my own game and that I knew what I had to do and to enjoy it. I really did. To get a clean sheet and a win just topped the whole night off.
"I was walking off the pitch and I still didn't realise what I'd just done. I was sitting and thinking 'I've just made my international debut, with the game on Sky TV with all my family and friends watching'.
"It's still surreal and it probably won't settle in until I go back to Cardiff and I'm sitting thinking about it."
Brown joined Cardiff from Wealdstone in January 2018 having previously been with non-league Bedfont as a teenager.
"I was in the Combined Counties (League) playing men's football at 17 (with Bedfont) and then made a jump to Conference South with Wealdstone," he pointed out.
"I played a good season there and then Cardiff came in and I've just been battling my way through there trying to get into the first team."
Explaining how he joined the Northern Ireland ranks, Brown said: "I think they kept a close eye on me when I made the jump from Wealdstone to Cardiff and they monitored how I went on.
"To be fair, my family and I have always had attachments to this country. This means so much to me and my family because they are so enthusiastic about it.
"My nan is a proper Northern Ireland girl and it means a lot to all of us. A few of my aunties and uncles were up in the stand at Windsor Park and they were waving down with a big smile on their faces which told me they were proud of me.
"I always used to go around to my nan's house for a good 10 years and honestly she's never lost her Belfast ways or accent.
"It was a good upbringing, I enjoyed it and she was always so good to me. I know she'll have been happy watching it at home on Sky."
Now that Brown has had a taste of international football he'd love some more and the chance to continue to learn from Premier League stars Evans and Cathcart.
"Before and after the game all the boys were good to me. Everyone introduced themselves even though I knew who all of them were," he said.
"They're all down to earth and as soon as I came off the pitch, they congratulated me. The gaffer said 'well done, it was a very good debut' so they were very welcoming.
"I trained twice with the first team and getting the opportunity to work with Jonny and Craig was fantastic for me. They are two very good defenders and I'm hoping to learn as much as I can from them.
"Training was hard because there's a different pace to it, but just watching Jonny and even listening to him was great because he came over and offered some pointers.
"Now I've got a taste of it, it makes me want more, so it just makes me hungrier to play again for Northern Ireland."
Tomorrow (7.45pm): Estonia v Netherlands, N Ireland v Germany