EXCLUSIVE WILL HAYHURST COLUMN

'Playing in Spain for the Ireland Under-21s side came at the right time'
'Playing in Spain for the Ireland Under-21s side came at the right time'
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During the international break I spent five days with the Republic of Ireland Under-21s squad in Marbella.

I had not been featuring much in the Preston squad, so it was felt that was a good opportunity for me to get some games under my belt, even though it meant missing North End’s match against Bradford last Saturday.

The weather in Spain was not the best for the first couple of days but the last three days were lovely.

We were based in Marbella, training there and playing two games against the United States and Russia.

The United States game was played at the local stadium and then we played Russia at the training complex.

I came on at half-time against the States and it was good to play the 45 minutes.

They were a good side to be fair, well organised in defence and they beat us 1-0.

Against Russia I came on later in the second half. We should have won, having been 2-0 up and them going down to 10 men after a sending-off.

But Russia battled back to draw 2-2, which was a bit disappointing.

My Preston team-mate Alan Browne was also playing in that game – he had flown out to join up after the Bradford match.

While I get on really well with the Irish lads, it was nice to see a familiar face…even if it was Browny!

Noel King is the coach of the Under-21s. He is a good manager and a nice person.

I qualify for the Republic of Ireland through my grandma on my mum’s side. She was born in Ireland and came to live over here.

We have a lot of family there who we go to visit quite regularly.

Playing international football for Republic of Ireland is not something which has just come about recently.

I was going to play at 
Under-17s level but I broke my leg at Preston and didn’t get back in time to play at that age group. I later got into the Under-19s and have now progressed through to the Under-21s.

It is great experience. I now have five Under-21s caps and hopefully a lot more to come.

Not having played too much for North End recently has been a bit frustrating – I’m no different than any footballer in that respect.

Hopefully, with those two appearances for Ireland in the bag, I can push on and get myself back involved here.

There is some really strong competition in the squad for the two wingers’ roles in the Preston side.

Paul Gallagher is someone I look up to and he has played out on that left-hand side.

On the other wing Chris Humphrey has done well this season, while Callum Robinson, Kyel Reid and Lee Holmes can play wide.

So there are plenty of lads competing for a couple of roles and that should keep everyone on their toes.

This is my third season as a professional and my seventh year with North End overall.

I take a lot of pride in playing for my local club and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Does being a local lad bring any extra pressure? I suppose it does in some was.

You can either buckle under that pressure or enjoy it and I certainly enjoy it.

Preston are the team I always supported growing up and to get the chance to play for them is brilliant.

As a kid, I played for Longridge Town and for Lancashire, before joining North End at Under-14s level.

I had injury setbacks along the way – managing to break both of my legs – but I battled through.

The first break was not so tough to deal with. I soon got my head round it and got myself back fit.

But the second one was really tough, I’ll admit that.

I was sat in the gym for four months doing my rehab while the other lads in my age group were out there playing and training, trying to earn a pro contract.

There were times when I wondered whether I should carry on in football but I kept at it and I’m glad I did.

In my career, I’m around the 70-appearance mark, which I’m pleased with at the age of 20. It goes without saying that I want to push on and play a lot more matches.

I will be 21 in February and I’m actually starting to feel quite old when compared with some of the lads in the Deepdale dressing room.

In the past I was always the young lad coming through but now there are plenty of lads younger than me.

Alan Browne, Ben Davies, Josh Brownhill, Jack Ryan and Callum Robinson are all still in their teens – I probably seem ancient to them!