Shayne Lavery: I'm determined to prove I belong in Northern Ireland senior squad
Linfield's European hero Shayne Lavery is confident he can produce more fireworks for the Blues - and on the international stage.
The 20-year-old's sensational early-season form for David Healy's side has booked his place in Michael O'Neill's squad for the home friendly against Luxembourg tomorrow ahead of Monday's Euro 2020 Group C blockbuster with Germany at Windsor Park.
Lavery, who replaced the injured Paul Smyth in the panel, has made one senior international appearance in a friendly against Costa Rica in June 2018.
But the former Everton youngster will get some minutes against Luxembourg, and if he can maintain his extraordinary goalscoring form then a dream date with the Germans could be a handsome reward.
After netting five goals for the Blues - three against Azerbaijan champions Qarabag - Lavery is a man brimming with confidence and hungry to improve.
"I'm still learning. I'm only 20 and just want to produce a few more good performances," said Lavery, who stepped up from the Under-21 side.
"I just need to get as much game time as I can, and if I can keep delivering for Linfield the door will open further at international level.
"I think there's always an opportunity for players to impress but I'm also viewing this as a bonus for me because I still feel like an Under-21 player.
"I'll enjoy training and any game time is a bonus too.
"Training with the Northern Ireland guys, including Premier League players, is only going to make me better.
"It's been a great experience so far and I'm happy to train with the lads.
"I don't see the Irish League as a step back. I just wanted to be back playing football again and showing people what I can do. Thankfully I've been able to play a few games and score goals.
"It hurts when you are left out of squads, and when you get in you just want to show you deserve to be here. Hopefully I can keep doing that."
O'Neill has confirmed that Jordan Jones and Michael Smith will miss both games through injury. Jones departed Ibrox on crutches after making a poor tackle in injury-time on Moritz Bauer during Rangers' Old Firm defeat to Celtic on Sunday.
The former Kilmarnock ace was shown a straight red card for the challenge.
Hearts defender Smith has dropped out of the squad with a hamstring injury.
Liam Boyce remains a doubt after picking up an injury while playing for English League One side Burton Albion.
Lavery, who was speaking at Northern Ireland’s training base near Stormont yesterday, came across as a humble young player determined to take everything in his stride.
Despite his European heroics, including an astonishing individual goal against Qarabag, the boy from mid-Ulster remains a raw talent needing the right full-time environment to see him flourish.
But Linfield are now giving him the platform and guidance he needs, particularly after a spell in England which didn’t quite go according to plan.
The Everton experience was tough at times, but he doesn’t look back with regrets.
“I was at Everton for four years but in the last six months I went on loan to Falkirk,” he added. “For the first few years I was really enjoying it and playing for the youth team, but in the last year I wasn’t and David (Healy) said to me in the summer if I performed well in training I would play for Linfield, and thankfully that has happened.
“David Unsworth and John Everall were the main coaches. It was great being coached by ex-Premier League players and I can take a lot of positives from my time there, even though the club let me go. It was beneficial to my career.
“You will be left out of teams in football and have to come off the bench at times. It’s not an ideal situation for any player but you just have to keep working hard. I think the Everton players and coaches made me a better player, I don’t have any regrets about that experience.
“The standard is very high there and it was always going to be a hard challenge.”