Michael O’Neill hopes new recruit Ben Reeves can become a permanent fixture with Northern Ireland in the years to come.
The 22-year-old MK Dons midfielder has been included in O’Neill’s squad for next week’s friendly against Cyprus.
Reeves qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his grandmother who hails from Kesh in Fermanagh.
The former Southampton Academy starlet flashed onto O’Neill’s radar 12 months ago, prompting the international boss to make his move.
And O’Neill hopes now Reeves has expressed an interest, that the versatile midfielder can become a familiar face in Northern Ireland’s squad.
“It wasn’t difficult to convince Ben. Young players have aspirations, and Ben is no different,” O’Neill said.
“Once I spoke to him and went through his agent and his manager, I met with the player directly. He then came back to me two days later and said he wanted to come on board.
“He feels the time is right , and players like Ben who are playing outside of the Premier League and Championship, international football gives them an opportunity to play at a higher level.
“Ben sees this as an opportunity to test himself and enhance his own club career.”
Reeves came off Southampton’s impressive youth production line before making the move to MK Dons last summer.
He also came recommended by current Northern Ireland captain and Saints midfielder Steven Davis.
“Ben is a young player we have been aware of for the past year,” O’Neill said.
“He came through Southampton’s Academy from the age of 12 or 13 and played there before being released last year. He has had a good grounding there with some of the quality players who have come through the Southampton ranks.
“He is a player I knew through Steven (Davis) and he spoke highly of Ben.
“He is a young player with a lot of potential, and when you have a young player coming to you through eligibility it is important to bed them into the squad when you have the opportunity, and then try to keep them there.
“You try to sell Northern Ireland to these players, and the options of international football, and Ben is very keen to get involved.”
O’Neill will be without defenders Jonny Evans (injured), Chris Baird (unattached) and Aaron Hughes (personal reasons) for next Wednesday’s friendly.
Included in the 22-man panel are Paddy McCourt, Kyle Lafferty and Dean Shiels.
“Paddy has been getting some game time with Barnsley which is a bonus, and Kyle and Dean have been doing well for the clubs,” O’Neill /added.
“So the time is right to bring them back into the squad.”