Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong, John McClelland, Peter Kennedy and current star Craig Cathcart are some of the Watford players to shine for Northern Ireland. One day 18-year-old JJ McKiernan hopes to join them.
The teenager, who was recently handed a professional contract for the Hornets, made a promising Northern Ireland Under-21 debut on Friday night in a 3-2 European Championship qualifying defeat to Finland at the Ballymena Showgrounds and the dream scenario for the midfielder is to progress into the senior ranks in the future.
He certainly has plenty of potential and is highly rated at his club. Although from Southampton, he is eligible to play for Northern Ireland because his nan Ann is from Belfast and as JJ — which stands for John Joshua — explains, he was wearing green and white from an early age.
“I always watched Northern Ireland growing up. My nan lives round the corner from my house in England and every Christmas she would always buy me a Northern Ireland top,” he revealed.
“I always used to go out wearing Northern Ireland gear when I was younger so getting called into the Under-21s meant the world to me and my family.
“The training has been really good. The players move the ball quickly, the tempo is very high and they want to learn just like me.
“Down the line, I want to become a senior player for Northern Ireland and I want to make my first team debut for Watford as well.”
McKiernan has enjoyed coming through the ranks at Watford, making an impact at Academy level.
He says: “Things have been going very well at Watford. I recently got offered a professional contract for the next two years at the club and been promoted to the Under-23s.
“I played Under-23s as a 17-year-old second year scholar and I am playing 23s this season and everything is going well.
“The Academy has been very good for me. They have really helped push me on. The coaches are really good and have helped me get to that next step.”
At Watford he has players like Cathcart to look up to, while the international skipper Steven Davis has long since been a favourite.
“I had a season ticket at Southampton and used to watch Steven Davis. I loved him as a player and at Watford we have Craig Cathcart, who of course is a regular in the Northern Ireland side. I’ve spoken to Craig a couple of times. I’ve trained with the first team before but Craig wasn’t there when I was training but everyone knows he is a very good player,” says McKiernan.
As for his all-time top player, that is Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard who is now managing Davis at Rangers.
“Steven Gerrard is one of the greatest in the Premier League in my position,” he states. “I see myself as someone who can mix up my play, going box to box and making things happen and getting on the ball. That’s how I saw Gerrard growing up.”