Mark Sykes has opened up about his decision to switch international allegiance and leave Northern Ireland behind, declaring that it has always been his dream to play for the Republic of Ireland.
Since the move from Sykes became public on Sunday, there has been much debate and discussion surrounding the Oxford United midfielder and anger from some Northern Ireland fans who watched the player come through the Irish FA ranks before last year landing a transfer from Glenavon to professional football in England.
Fluent Irish speaker Sykes admits it was a "difficult decision" but, set to win his first Northern Ireland cap in next month's Nations League games, which would have prevented his Republic switch, the Belfast native felt it was a call he had to make.
"The Republic of Ireland are the team I have always dreamed of playing for and I have to try my best to achieve that," said Sykes, who shone when current Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough managed the Under-21s.
"I am proud to have been involved with the Northern Ireland team and have always given it my all, but I had to make a choice and it had to be now.
"It was a really difficult decision. I genuinely wish Northern Ireland all the best and know they will do well under their new manager, who I have worked with before and really like.
"The last few weeks have given me time to think about things and I have to do what my heart says."
Oxford manager Karl Robinson revealed that Sykes has 'agonised' over his decision and had "not taken it lightly".
While Sykes is out of the Northern Ireland squad, one Oxford player is included with ex-Linfield hero Joel Cooper called up to the senior set-up following his summer switch from Windsor Park.