Everton’s Shane Duffy admits he has to pinch himself when he reflects upon making his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland under Martin O’Neill.
The 22-year-old defender won his first senior cap against Costa Rica during the early hours of Saturday morning, fulfilling one long-held ambition.
But as a Celtic fan, he was just as delighted to be handed his chance by fellow Derry man and former Hoops boss O’Neill.
Duffy said: “Me and James [McClean] were just speaking about that - we used to go to the games, and now he’s picking me to play for his team.
“Everything has happened so quickly for me, it’s still a blur for me really. Playing for Ireland, my country, there’s no prouder feeling than to be here.
“All around world football, [O’Neill] is well known for what he’s done. For him to pick me as a manager, he thinks I’m all right - that’s just an honour for me to be in the squad.”
Duffy has had to wait for his chance after very nearly making his senior debut as a teenager, only for life-threatening injury to intervene.
He had been promised his chance in an end-of-season friendly against Paraguay in 2010 by then manager Giovanni Trapattoni, but days before the game, he suffered a horrific training ground accident which left him with a lacerated liver and needing emergency surgery.
Duffy was back on the training pitch within weeks, but freely admits it took him time to regain his form and confidence, and loan spells at Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yeovil, where he made 39 appearances last season, since have helped him to rebuild his career.
He insists he never thought his chance had gone, but was delighted to have finally pulled on the green shirt.
He said: “I thought always if I was playing, I’d get a chance.
“This is my first season where I’ve played football. It’s been just games here and there for a few years.
“I thought if I got a full season I always felt I had a chance. I have self-belief, but to be here is great.
“It’s been a long four years. I don’t know, I was just focussing on club football to see if I could get back to where I was, and hopefully this season I have shown that.
“Playing the other night was sort of a reward for four years ago, what happened, so I was just delighted.
“I am made up to be even in the squad, so to play was a dream. Obviously when you start playing football, you want to play for your country, so I was delighted when it actually came.”
Duffy will hope for another opportunity when the Republic face Portugal at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey during the early hours of Wednesday morning.
But if he is pitched into battle once again, he knows he has things to work on after a straight-talking assessment of his contribution against the Costa Ricans from O’Neill.
“He said I did some good things and I did some bad things which I need to improve on,” said Duffy.