I was always committed to playing for Northern Ireland, says Paul Smyth

I was always committed to playing for Northern Ireland, says Paul Smyth

Paul Smyth made an instant impact on his Northern Ireland senior debut and then dismissed the notion he might have switched his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.

The 20-year-old QPR winger took just four minutes to open his account in international football when he came off the bench and scored the winner against South Korea at Windsor Park on Saturday.

Belfast-born Smyth has been on Michael O'Neill's radar for a considerable time and was part of his training group at Euro 2016, but the possibility of him transferring to the Republic was raised when Northern Ireland's boss reopened the eligibility debate in an interview earlier this month.

All players born in Northern Ireland are eligible to represent the nation south of the border and O'Neill had suggested the Football Association of Ireland "only" target Catholics.

O'Neill stated he did not fear Smyth turning his back on the country he had represented at youth level to play for the Republic, as James McClean, Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy all did.

And, although he could still technically do so having only featured for Northern Ireland in a friendly, the player himself has now confirmed that it was never his intention to make the move.

"I was brought up through the youth teams and I always said to myself if I got my chance with the Northern Ireland first team then I would take it," Smyth said.

"I didn't listen to it (the talk about the possibility of representing the Republic) at all. I feel it puts unnecessary pressure on you when people question you about it. So I avoid it as much as I can and just focus on where I am at the minute."

It was a mature response from a diminutive winger who had already displayed a cool head when he collected a flick-on from QPR team-mate Conor Washington and rifled home.

His physical attributes were equally impressive. Smyth, an asthmatic who requires two puffs of an inhaler before playing, had completed 90 minutes for Northern Ireland Under-21s less than 48 hours earlier and then performed a backflip at Windsor Park to celebrate his goal.

"It's a trademark Paul Smyth celebration so hopefully you can continue to see it if I keep on scoring goals," he added.

"It's just crazy - to score on my senior international debut is a great feeling.

"I thought if I was able to keep the ball down low then I would have a chance of scoring and thankfully it went into the back of the net."

Smyth had been earmarked for senior consideration this year, but, unlike fellow 20-year-old Jamal Lewis, he was initially made available for the Under-21s before O'Neill promoted him following four senior withdrawals.

"I was freaking out because there are not many times you are called up to the senior squad," Smyth added.

"Michael comes in and tells you are going to be involved and that's when the nerves hit, but then you have to put your game head on, hope for a chance and I'm so happy I buried the chance when I got it."

- PA

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