Derry City players - Conor McDermott, Rory Holden and Mikhail Kennedy - have all been called up to join a Northern Ireland U21 training squad.
However, the City trio will be available for next Friday evening’s league clash at Drogheda United, before travelling to Belfast to join the training squad.
McDermott and Kennedy have played for the U21’s on a number of occasions, but for Holden this will be his first taste of the international set-up and he can’t wait to get started.
The talented midfielder is already hoping to force his way into Ian Baraclough’s squad, which has been drawn with Albania, Estonia, Iceland, Slovakia and Spain in their 2019 UEFA European Championship qualifying group, which kicks-off against Estonia in Tallinn on June 8th.
“It was unexpected, but here’s hoping I have a good weekend at the camp and then I get an actually call-up to the U21 squad,” declared Holden.
“Ian Baraclough told me when he rang that he has seen bits and pieces of me and he has had a good word from Kenny (Shiels) about me so, hopefully, this isn’t just a matter of going to the training camp for him just to look at me. Hopefully, it is to get me into the actual squad itself and it’s good to be in his thoughts at this stage.”
The former Top of the Hill Celtic youth, who missed the early season with a virus, now wants to force his way into the City starting line-up.
“I was out for a month with a virus, it was frustrating but I’m starting to get stronger and now I want to kick-on,” he added.
“We have a few big matches coming up against (Shamrock) Rovers, Dundalk and Drogheda (United), so hopefully I can get involved in those games.
“My main aim is to try and get into the Derry starting line-up and then possibly a place in the U21 squad.
“But the priority is to start games for Derry. It’s important to get a run in the team but that’s down to the manager, so it’s up to me to impress."
Meanwhile, the ‘Candy Stripes’ entertain Shamrock Rovers at Maginn Park this evening and Shiels knows it’s going to be a tough test against a side which,he feels ‘boasts some of the best players in the country’.
“I’m amazed to be one point ahead of Shamrock Rovers. I expected them to be the Cork City of our league, this season, because of the investment, the infrastructure and the players they have available to them.
“I’m really surprised that they aren’t up near the top of the table,” he added.
“They have the best players in the league. They signed two top performers from Dundalk (Ronan Finn and Darren Meenan), Graham Burke is back from England, so they have got good depth and quality in the squad.”
Earlier this the season a goal from the late Ryan McBride was enough for Derry City secure three points at Tallaght and Shiels hopes his side can have a similar result tonight.
“We are going to face a really tough game because they are good; they have the strongest squad in the league,” maintains Shiels.
“We have had too many draws in recent weeks, we have had five and a win in our last six games.
“I could start talking like other managers and say we struggled to score in our last six games, but it’s not acceptable.
“We have to start getting matches over the line. The main feature during our recent period is that we have been forced to come from behind a lot, which suggests we have got good character and good determination, but we have to be winning matches.”
Shiels has virtually a fully fit squad to choose from with Lukas Schubert back in the squad.