Caolan: I am ready to help Baraclough's boys earn a perfect start
Caolan Boyd-Munce is a talented teenage midfielder from Turf Lodge who was overjoyed to make his first team debut for Birmingham City last month.
Tonight the 19-year-old aims to fire the Northern Ireland Under-21 side earn a victory in their Euro 2021 opener against Malta at the Ballymena Showgrounds (7.30pm).
Standard enough you might think but there's something different about this kid from west Belfast. Articulate, intelligent and with an infectious personality, Boyd-Munce is not exactly your normal young footballer.
Chatting about his career and life in Birmingham, he reveals how he is spending his spare time in England's second city.
Speaking at the Hilton Hotel in Templepatrick, base camp for the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad, Boyd-Munce said: "In Birmingham I started doing a law degree. I have so much time on my hands and I needed something to keep my mind occupied.
"I did well at school and finished my GCSEs before I came to England and I've always wanted to do law so I thought why not?
"I'm doing it with the Open University. You do it online and you have your own tutors if you need them. I have just finished my first year and I passed with flying colours."
When Caolan is told former Northern Ireland captain and ex-Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill was studying law at Queen's University before leaving the course to become a European Cup winning footballer at Nottingham Forest, he's all smiles.
Quite rightly he feels proud of what he is doing on and off the pitch across the water, though it's nowhere near the same levels of satisfaction experienced by his mum Louise, dad Stephen, sister Chloe (10) and brother Conan (3) when they watched on TV as he made his senior debut as a substitute for Birmingham against Portsmouth in a League Cup tie.
Three years earlier he played at just 16 against Crusaders for Glentoran under then Oval boss Alan Kernaghan, having started out at local club Newhill followed by spells at Cliftonville and Linfield.
A few months after his Irish League bow, Birmingham snapped up the Steven Gerrard loving teenager and such has been his progress he was handed a two-year professional contract in June.
"I was buzzing to make my debut for Birmingham," the former De La Salle student said.
"I was supposed to have a game earlier that week with the 23s and then I was told I was going with the first team. I didn't expect to get on and it was kind of a surreal moment. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. It was fantastic.
"It was on Sky Sports so my whole family were able to watch it, seeing me come on and my name on the back of my shirt, simple things that are so special.
"I think mummy might have shed a wee tear or two and my dad was very proud. My wee brother and sister were loving it. After the game my phone was going mad. I'd love more chances to play in the first team this season.
"Going to Birmingham at 16 was some change for me and my family. I was a mummy's boy from west Belfast and left home for England with no one with me. It made me grow up that bit quicker. I'm very proud of where I'm from. It's a great place and doesn't get the reputation it should. I know other sportspeople from Turf Lodge have shown the area in a good light and I'd like to try and do the same."
Long-term goals for Caolan include being a success at Birmingham, turning out at Anfield one day and playing for the Northern Ireland senior side.
Tonight, though, his aim is to shine for Ian Baraclough's Under-21 team in their first Euro 2021 qualifier.
He added: "We are excited to get going and want to reach the finals. Down the line my aim is to make the senior team and the way Ian and Michael O'Neill work younger players will be given a chance if they impress which is a great incentive for all of us."
N Ireland U21
European Championship qualifying:
Ballymena Showgrounds, Friday, 7.30pm