Midfielder Michael O’Connor declared he is ‘thrilled’ to be back in the international set-up.
The Rotherham United man, who has 10 caps, fell out of favour with former boss Nigel Worthington and was dumped in the international wilderness for three years.
But when he received a surprise call from Michael O’Neill as a late call up to the squad for last month’s game against Russia, he couldn’t wait to get back.
“The manager spoke to me after the Russian game,” said O’Connor, who retained his slot in the panel for Friday’s night World Cup qualifier against Portugal.
“He said he was impressed with me in training . . . and would have no problems throwing me in without me being fazed.
“I just need to keep working hard at club level. I thought I had no chance of being named again. The boss told me he had me watched against Aston Villa recently in the Carling Cup.
“Three years out is a long time. I didn’t think I would get the chance to play again.
“I just concentrated on getting my head down for my club. I worked really hard. and stayed injury free.
“I don’t think I was getting a fair chance undet the former manager (Nigel Worthington). I played well against San Marino, which we won 4-0. In the next game, things were not going well and I was taken off after 45 minutes.
“It’s not the case with Michael because he is not afraid to give players a chance as you’ve seen with the young lads he has brought into the squad.
“Admittedly, I was surprised to get the call (for the Russian game), but I was thrilled to take it. I am happy enough to sit on the bench at the minute.
“The lads showed what they are capable of against Russia. It was great to see Windsor Park bouncing again. Hopefully, the fans will get behind us again.”