Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Liam Donnelly determined to be EIGHTH U21 qualifying star to make Northern Ireland senior step

His Under 21 credentials are unparalleled. Now Liam Donnelly wants to carry his international success into Northern Ireland's senior side.

The Motherwell defender has hung up his U21 captain's armband after a record 24 appearances for the underage team.

After making his debut SIX years ago as a 16-year-old, Donnelly also netted a record five goals and finished off his U21 career by leading the side to a second place finish in their UEFA U21 Championship qualifying campaign.

Now the only thing that could top that, he admits, is that call from senior boss Michael O'Neill to carry on from the single senior cap he earned in friendly defeat to Chile back in 2014.

"Yes, that's the aim," Donnelly said after O'Neill took in the U21s' 1-0 win over Slovakia at Windsor Park on Tuesday.

"There are a few lads he'll have been watching and I'm sure he'll have been impressed.

"There are a few lads who could definitely make the step up. That's the next step and hopefully that comes."

Donnelly has started four Scottish Premiership games for Motherwell this season and will have to continue picking up regular club action if he's to follow some of his U21 team-mates into O'Neill's panel.

As many of seven of the players that contributed to the U21s' recent qualifying heroics have already earned a senior cap. Paul Smyth and Gavin Whyte have already found the net for the seniors this year while Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Jamal Lewis are regular names on Michael O'Neill's team-sheet.

Conor Hazard, Jordan Thompson and Shayne Lavery also played for O'Neill during the summer tour of Central America.

Three of five centre-halves regularly in the Northern Ireland panel are in their 30s, with Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley both 38.

Soon Donnelly could take a spot to progress his international career but for now, is left to look back on his achievements.

"It's special to be fair," Donnelly said of his U21 records. "It's something I'll always look back on with a lot of pride. I was getting a bit emotional there to be leaving it. It's been unbelievable, espeically the last campaign. I couldn't have wished for a better campaign and I'll miss it.

"The campaign from the start, it started with 3 points away to Estonia and it's been unbelievable since then, the whole way through.

"I wish I could go back to then and start it all again. What a way to finish it off. I know we didn't make the qualifying spot but to play in front of that crowd, have all your friends and family down, and get the win to make it 20 points, it was unbelievable.

"A lot of credit has got to go to Ian and the coaching staff that he's brought in with hyim. They've been a real pushing force behind this and have set the standards that the players have had to rise to.

"We've done that - it was a great group of lads. We stuck together, we did what the coaches wanted us to do and it paid off."

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