Accrington Stanley forward James Gray described the moment he got his first senior call-up for Northern Ireland as the proudest day of his life.
The 21-year-old, who has yet to make his senior debut, was called into Michael O’Neill’s squad for the double header against Uruguay and Chile and can follow in the footsteps of his father Phil, 45, who made 26 appearances for Northern Ireland.
England born Gray has impressed while playing for James Beattie’s Accrington side towards the end of the 2013/14 campaign and scored vital goals to help the Lancashire outfit secure their League Two status.
Now he has his sights set on winning his first international cap for Northern Ireland and hopes he can feature more for the national side in the future.
“I was in bed when the phone rang,” revealed Gray.
“Under-21s manager Stevie Robinson called and then afterwards, David Currie from the IFA, who said Michael O’Neill wanted to draft me into the senior squad for the South America trip.
“It’s massive for me. I’ve played at every level apart from the seniors and Northern Ireland has a big place in my heart.
“Hopefully now I can make my debut and that this is the first of many call-ups.”
Gray’s father, Phil, is no stranger to Windsor Park and the former Sunderland, Oxford United and Luton Town striker holds a record of winning every game that he scored in for Northern Ireland.
The pacy front-man, who has made 11 appearances for the Under-21s, revealed how proud his father was for him to be called upon by O’Neill and how his father shared advice with him about playing for NI.
“He made his debut at 22 so hopefully I can beat him by making my debut at 21,” he joked.
“When I rang Dad, he was really made up for me. He told me that I wouldn’t have been called up if I wasn’t good enough to play and to go out and enjoy the experience.”
While the Accrington striker is familiar with some of the squad’s younger players, Gray says that he is looking forward to the challenge of learning from Northern Ireland’s experienced stars, as well as the prospect of playing against some the world’s elite ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
He said: “I’ve not met some of the more senior players so it will be nice to meet them - Steven Davis was one of my boyhood favourites growing up.
“When you’re playing in the lower leagues of England, it’s not often you get the chance to come up against stars from Uruguay or Chile who have Champions League experience.
“Uruguay and Chile are dark horses to win the World Cup and I think it makes it that bit more special for me that I could potentially have the chance of playing against them.
“I want to be involved in the international set-up as much as possible, whenever I’m called upon and I want to show Michael that I am good enough to make the step up to the senior level.”