Belfast Telegraph

I can't wait to be back at Windsor in a Northern Ireland shirt, says Paul Smyth

Ex-Blueman Smyth eyes spot in O'Neill's squad after QPR heroics

By Graham Luney

Paul Smyth has admitted he's now dreaming of a senior Northern Ireland call-up after making a sensational goalscoring debut for Queens Park Rangers.

The 20-year-old became an instant hero at Loftus Road when he netted the winner in a 2-1 victory against Cardiff City on New Year's Day.

Former Linfield winger Smyth received a standing ovation when he was substituted following his dazzling debut, and he also marked his first full appearance for QPR in their 1-0 defeat at home to MK Dons in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who allowed Smyth to join his training camp at the Euro 2016 finals in France, has congratulated the Belfast youngster on his dream start to 2018. After featuring for the U21 side, Smyth is relishing the chance to make a senior international appearance.

"Once you play Under-21 football your main target is to get to the senior side if you think you are capable enough, and I just want to keep pushing on and if my chance comes I'll try to take it," said Smyth.

Smyth continued: “If it doesn’t, that’s unfortunate, but I’ll keep working hard and play for the Under-21s while hoping to make an appearance for the senior side. It’s important that I perform at club level to give myself the best chance of that.

“Michael O’Neill has contacted me to wish me all the best, and players including Paddy McNair, Conor McLaughlin and Jamie Ward have texted me and it feels good when the international lads are encouraging you to push on and try to get in the team with them. It feels good to have those lads on my side.”

Northern Ireland are expected to play a friendly in March before heading to Central America to take on Panama on May 29 and Costa Rica on June 3.

The Irish FA are stepping up their efforts to offer O’Neill a new deal with the Scottish FA keen to secure his services.

Smyth moved from Linfield to Championship side QPR in August and agreed a two-year deal, but had to remain patient before seizing his chance to impress.

Now his big impact has given fresh hope to other young Irish League stars hoping to make it across the water, including Glenavon ace Mark Sykes and Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte.

Smyth said: “It was all down to hard work. I got my head down and worked as hard as I could and when I got the chance to play I had that attitude to work hard to try to impress.

“Thankfully, I got that chance through working hard in the Irish League. I’m very grateful to have the chance to experience the full-time game here and I’ve loved every minute of it.

“There is talk about Mark Sykes and Gavin Whyte and a few others who can push on and look at what I have achieved. I’m grateful for it, and I’m sure when they get their chance they will be grateful for it too.”

The former Windsor Park hero, who scored for Northern Ireland’s Under-21s in a 1-1 draw in Ukraine in October 2016, also thanked the Irish League fans who continue to send him encouraging messages.

“The fans back home always encouraged me and believed I could move across the water, it was a question of when,” he added. “When that happened the fans were firmly behind me, saying if things didn’t work out you are welcome back. I’m grateful for that because you need the fans on your side, not against you. I want to keep them on my side and make sure they are happy. Hopefully they will enjoy every game they watch me play.

“I’ve learned here that your spot is never safe. I need to keep working hard to retain a place in the team, and when I play I need to perform to keep my place. I want to keep the fans happy and if I can stay in the team I’ll try to make that happen.

“The past few months I have been here it’s been unbelievable. The professional training every day is what you need, but ahead of the game against Cardiff it was all nerves, and once I got on the pitch it was about keeping a cool head and thinking, ‘What have I got to lose?’ I went out there to give it my all.

“The goal wasn’t in the script, I never expected to score or play as well as I did. Luckily that happened and it was about me trying to do my bit for the team while others did their bit. Thankfully I got through on goal and put the ball away. I didn’t know what to do so I just celebrated with my trademark backflip.”

Smyth’s stunning debut was also hailed by his QPR team-mates including midfielder Ryan Manning, who stated: “Everyone was delighted for him.

“He’s working as hard as he can. He just needs to apply himself in training and listen to what the coaches say every day. The gaffer felt he was good enough to get an opportunity and all Smythy can do is perform.

“I know how difficult it is to move away from home, fair play to him. He’s one of the hardest working lads we have and he got his rewards for his hard work.”

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