Exclusive Greg Cunningham column

Preston's Republic of Ireland international is hoping to force his way into Martin O'Neill's squad for Euro 2016
Preston's Republic of Ireland international is hoping to force his way into Martin O'Neill's squad for Euro 2016
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Next summer should be one to remember for myself and the rest of my countrymen and women in the Republic of Ireland.

Our national team’s 3-1 play-off aggregate win over Bosnia and Herzagovina last week means we will be heading to Euro 2016 in France next summer.

I was actually named in the provisional squad by manager Martin O’Neill for the two play-off games, but unfortunately an untimely thigh strain ended any hopes I had of making the final cut.

It is definitely something which is in the back of my mind to force my way into the Irish squad and be part of next summer’s tournament.

Being born in 1991, I was either not born, or too young to remember, the halcyon days of Jack Charlton’s great teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But I grew up in Galway – a city on the west coast – listening to my father Billy’s tales of Italia ’90 and USA ’94.

He actually hired a campervan with three of his friends and toured around Italy.

After we qualified out of our group – which included England and Holland – at Italia ’90, he stayed on a couple of weeks and watched Charlton’s men reach the quarter-finals before losing to the host nation 1-0 in Rome.

I am not sure my mum was too happy about it at the time, but he had a great time back then being part of the Green Army and has lots of stories to tell from his trip away. It would be great if I could create a few stories of my own next summer.

My biggest memories of watching Ireland go back to the 2002 World Cup as an 11-year-old kid and watching Robbie Keane equalise in the last minute against Germany.

We were unlucky there, losing to Spain on penalties, and players from that era like Robbie and John O’Shea are still involved in the squad today.

It is nice to be in the thoughts of O’Neill because it’s been a couple of years since I last played for my country, after making my debut against Algeria in 2010.

I think the fact that I have been named in two provisional squads recently is due to my form with Preston this season.

It’s always hard at first when you arrive at a new club, but I feel really settled here and I’m enjoying my football.

It is strange how football works. Last season I was struggling to get a game with Bristol City in League One, but this campaign I am holding a regular spot down in the Championship with Preston.

It shows that football is all about opinions and I’m grateful to the gaffer Simon Grayson for showing faith in me.

While it would be a dream to go to France next summer, I don’t really think about it too much.

My focus is to take care of the job in hand, which is helping Preston win games of football.

If I do that, then we’ll see what happens.

Last weekend was a little bit strange seeing our keeper Jordan Pickford pick the ball out of our net twice against Blackburn Rovers.

Defensively, we have been on a great run and the derby defeat at Deepdale ended our run of six successive clean sheets.

The past few weeks have been interesting for me because the gaffer has asked me to play as a left-sided centre-half in a three-man defence.

I’m used to playing as a left-back as part of a back four and I’ve also played as a wing-back.

I suppose it’s good to have a few strings to my bow.

When I play as a centre-half, I try to read the game and sweep up. Although I’m 6ft tall, I’m not the biggest, so I’ve tended to leave a lot of the physical stuff to Bailey Wright.

Whatever formation the gaffer decides for the game at Fulham this weekend, I will be ready to play and focused on earning three points.

Fulham have some quality players who can really you. In Ross McCormack, they have one of the best strikers in the division, so we will have to be at our best at Craven Cottage.