Luca Connell has described his surprise Ireland call-up as “an honour” and his introduction to the senior set-up as “crazy” and “surreal”.
Speaking at the squad’s training camp on the Algarve this morning, the 18-year-old said: “It’s an honour to get the call-up, I can’t wait to get started and hopefully get the training camp through and then see what happens from there.”
It was from his father Andrew that Connell learned Mick McCarthy had been in touch.
“Funnily enough, it was only Sunday night the gaffer rang my dad and said he’d be interested, had heard a lot about me, hadn’t seen me live yet but was looking forward to seeing me.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. It’s one of those ones, I was confused and it didn’t really sink in until I was on the plane that I was actually coming over to meet the first team squad.
“I spoke to Seamus last night, he welcomed me in. Being the skipper, that’s part of his job as well, isn’t it. But he’s a lovely, lovely fella. I can’t thank him enough for welcoming me in.”
It all makes for a hugely upbeat ending to a season in which, while Connell made the breakthrough into the first team, his financially troubled club experienced both relegation and going into administration.
“It’s been a tough season for the club, the players, the staff, the fans, tough all around,” Conmell said. “But it’s been a good season for me personally. I’ve experience in the Championship and I’m grateful to the gaffer for giving me the chance.
“But it’s been hard. When you’re down the bottom of the table every game’s a big game, you need to get three points or even one is good in some games. You need to get any points on the board to try to get yourself out of relegation. Unfortunately we couldn’t this year but hopefully we can crack on and see what happens.”
With a growing number of clubs – including Spurs, Southampton, Wolves, Brighton, Burnley and, most recently, Rangers - reportedly interested in the midfielder whose Bolton contract is up this summer, it’s widely expected that Connell won’t be playing League One football next season.
“I don’t know,” he parried. “I’m leaving that down to my agent. Hopefully he’s sorting that out while I’m away, seeing what’s about and what he thinks is best for me.”
For now, he’s content to throw himself into Ireland’s training camp on the Algarve, knowing that Mick McCarthy has already said that should the youngster “rip it up” he could be in with a chance of retaining his place in the final squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Denmark and Gibraltar.
“I’m gonna try my best,” Connell said with a grin.
Meanwhile, another young player on the up is Mark Travers who experienced his own breakthrough at the highest level when debuting for Bournemouth against Spurs in the Premier League earlier this month, his performance earning rave reviews.
“Yeah, it was unexpected,” said the goalkeeper who hails from Maynooth. “I just wanted to go out there and do myself justice. The night before I didn't think it would go that well but thankfully it did. It was a great experience.
“I just turned 20 last week and I want to have a good few weeks with Ireland now before getting into pre-season and trying to challenge for the spot. If a loan is an option and I have to go down just to play games, we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully I can get back at Bournemouth, train well in pre-season and see where it takes me.”