FRESH from his Premier League success with Sunderland, former Derry City player James McClean hopes he can gatecrash Ireland's trip to Poland for the European Championship finals next summer.
The 22-year-old winger has come into the public eye after an impressive league debut for the Black Cats on Sunday, when he came off the bench and helped Sunderland turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win, McClean earning praise from his manager, Martin O'Neill, a fellow Derry man.
A bigger challenge now awaits as he joins the queue of players hoping to catch Giovanni Trapattoni's eye and win a seat on the team flight to Poland.
A long-shot admittedly, but given that this time last year McClean had just finished up a season in the second tier of the League of Ireland, anything is possible.
"I know I am way down the pecking order for the Euros and that there are a lot of players ahead of me, but it could happen and it would be the best achievement of my career to make that squad," McClean told the Herald today. "There is a big squad there already with the Republic and a lot of wingers who are capable of playing, lads who have played for the team already.
"But other players in the past have done it, come into the frame for the finals after not playing in the qualifiers, so you never know.
"I can only imagine what it would be like to play for Ireland at a tournament like that. I remember the last time they were at a finals, in 2002, everyone in Derry was watching the team then, and for me to make the squad would be unbelievable.
"First and foremost, I have to do well with Sunderland. If I'm not playing and doing well with Sunderland then nothing will happen on the international front and I won't let myself get carried away. I've played one game for the team and that's all. So my focus is on Sunderland, but if a chance comes up with Ireland, you never know."
It's only a few months since McClean, a former U21 cap with the North, made up his mind to end his Northern Ireland career and throw in his lot with the Republic -- and he's sure he made the right call.
"I made my decision before the Republic team qualified for the Euros so that wasn't a factor for me. Playing for the Republic was something I wanted to do," says McClean, who was named in the North's senior squad for a game against the Faroe Islands as he made his final call.
"It wasn't a hard decision to make and no one put pressure on me, I grew up supporting the Republic and always saw myself as Irish. It was easy enough in the end."
It's certainly been a whirlwind year for the young Derry man.
Just 12 months ago, he was part of a Derry City side which had just won promotion from the First Division back into the top flight, but a very impressive half-season with Derry in the Premier caused a stir in England and McClean was bought by Sunderland last August.
Despite some impressive displays in the reserves, he was left on the bench by Steve Bruce, but O'Neill handed him his bow in the last 15 minutes against Blackburn at the weekend. "The debut was amazing," he says. "Just to get a run and get on the pitch would have been great, but to get a good 15 to 20 minutes and play a part in a win was the stuff you dream about. It was always my dream to play in the Premier League.
"I have been doing well in the reserves and I was training well, but the circumstances we were in at the time meant that the manager wasn't able to throw me in.
"So I have a lot to thank Martin O'Neill for as he gave me the opportunity and hopefully I can repay his faith with some good performances. Martin had a wee chat with me after the game. He said I'd done well and he was happy with me, it's great to hear praise from such a legend as Martin O'Neill.
"The next aim now has to be for me to break into the team and get into the starting 11. I know I can play at this level. In the past, you'd seen lads like Keith Fahey go from the league at home and go straight into the team at a club like Birmingham City so I know that if you have the ability you will get a chance, you just need that opportunity."