Belfast Telegraph

I was always going to choose Northern Ireland over England: Jamal Lewis

 

By Graham Luney

Jamal Lewis says it was an easy decision to choose Northern Ireland ahead of England, and he's ready to make a big impact in Saturday's friendly with South Korea.

The Norwich City full-back is primed to make his Windsor Park bow in a friendly fixture that sees Michael O'Neill's side return to action for the first time since their heartbreaking World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland in November.

Lewis has featured for the Northern Ireland Under-19 and Under-21 sides, and the Luton man says there was never any danger of him pledging his loyalty to England.

"Obviously half my family's from here so it was a bit of a no-brainer for me when Michael asked me to join the senior squad," said Lewis, who scored in the FA Cup third round replay defeat by Chelsea in January.

"I was just delighted. Everything's moving so quickly, I'm just trying to take it all in my stride. It was a really proud moment for me. My mum Catrina, who is from Belfast, was ecstatic, she was going crazy!

"Obviously there were decisions to be made regarding Northern Ireland or England but I've made it so it's in the past now. I just want to enjoy it with the Northern Ireland squad and move forward.

"I'm just trying to take everything in my stride, club football's going well and to get called up for your national team as well, it's a great honour.

"I'm just taking it game by game really, just really enjoying it. These are the kind of moments you dream about when you're younger. Now it's come you kind of pinch yourself sometimes but you just get on with it, just enjoy your football."

I was always going to choose NI over England, insists Lewis

Lewis was still six weeks away from his first club appearance when Northern Ireland were last in action against Switzerland, but he swiftly established himself in the Canaries' first-team picture after Christmas.

Speaking at the squad's base at the Culloden Hotel on International Day of Happiness, he couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

O'Neill has in the past expressed concerns regarding his production line while more seasoned performers are coming towards the end of their careers, but Lewis is one of the new young guns hoping to prove that Northern Ireland can still mix it with the international elite.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis is not expected to play on Saturday as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.

While Davis’ class will be missed, 20-year-old Lewis aims to seize his big chance and, with left-sided player Chris Brunt contemplating his international future, he has an opportunity to catch O’Neill’s eye in this weekend’s friendly.

“Obviously Chris (Brunt) is a vital member of the team so it would be good to have him back no matter what.

“But, if he doesn’t come back, that obviously gives me a little bit of an opportunity to play in the team and make the left-back spot my own,” he added.

“The Euros were amazing. With the (World Cup) qualifiers against Switzerland, obviously it was unfortunate... I’d probably say it was the referee’s fault!

“I was watching it, I didn’t think it was a handball, but when you get to those games it is the fine margins that can decide the game.

“It was unfortunate to go out in that kind of way but it showed what the lads can do because they’re such a great group and they’ve shown how they can dig deep and win vital games. Hopefully we can continue and kick on and do that.

“The lads are really welcoming, really nice. We had our first training session today and it was good just to stretch out the legs, get the ball moving, it’s been good so far. We were doing a bit of shape today so seeing how the team want to play in the future, seeing how they’ve played.

“We’ve got a lot of talented players in this group, if we can just work well it seems like we can do a lot.

“It’s a really promising sight and I’m looking forward to playing my first game at the weekend.

“Michael’s told me about Windsor Park, the atmosphere’s crazy. I heard the fans are crazy, like having a 12th man in the stands.

“My mum’s coming over. That will be great for her.”

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