It’s been a challenging and depressing Nations League quadruple header for Northern Ireland but it’s a summer chapter that will be looked back on with great affection by Conor McMenamin.
The Glentoran hero received a surprise call-up to the training camp at St George’s Park in England and was then named in Ian Baraclough’s senior squad.
At the age of 26, he may have felt international recognition was out of reach but he has grasped the opportunity to shine with both hands.
He made his debut against Cyprus last weekend and yesterday enjoyed his second start and Windsor Park bow as a Northern Ireland winger.
The former Cliftonville and Warrenpoint Town man insisted he wasn’t in the squad to merely make up the numbers and his attacking flair has shone brightly despite the team’s struggles in the final third.
In yesterday’s 2-2 draw with Cyprus, he produced some magical moments and some observers even believe a move across the water is a distinct possibility.
Naturally, it’s whetted his appetite for more international action and he hopes this is the beginning of his Northern Ireland journey.
“It’s been great for me, my family, club and Irish League in general,” admitted McMenamin. “When I got the call-up and opportunity to play, I just wanted to play my game and keep doing what I have been doing for Glentoran.
“Hopefully I have done enough to impress the manager.
“The aim for me is to stay in the squad and hopefully I can do that by maintaining my form and have a good start to next season.
“Hopefully, I will be in the squad in September and if I’m doing well for my club then I will be in contention for the international side.
“If you don’t learn from the likes of Steven Davis, Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans, you will never learn. The training sessions are sharper and they make you a better player.
“You need to be on your toes and it’s been a great experience which has hopefully made me a better player.”
A section of the crowd chanted ‘We want Bara out’ during the game and a second draw in eight days against a side Northern Ireland had expected to beat was not enough to prevent a chorus of boos at the final whistle.
The result means Northern Ireland remain winless in 14 Nations League outings, while they have only two points — both from fixtures against Cyprus — in a group they entered as top seeds two weeks ago.
McMenamin understands the fans’ frustrations.
“They have every right to share their opinion, they follow us in large numbers and they have been brilliant in getting behind us,” he added.
“Hopefully, we will get better for them, this is early stages for us and we want them to stick with us.
“At least we showed a bit of character and gave the fans something positive to reflect on and it’s a fresh group which needs to build on this experience.
“There is plenty of potential here. There’s a lot of young players in the squad and two weeks ago we didn’t know each other. Hopefully, this is the beginning and we can now build on this.
“It’s a young and new group and the fightback is something to build on. It will take time but hopefully we can get it right.”