Gavin Whyte believes he is “twice the player” he was 12 months ago after stepping up with Oxford and Northern Ireland.
The 22-year-old only made a move to full-time football in the summer as he left Crusaders for League One Oxford, and three senior caps for Northern Ireland have followed since.
“I would say I’m twice the player now than I was last year – even though I had a really good season in the Irish League,” Whyte said.
“I think I’m far better than what I was. Always improving, always learning. So I’m keeping the head down, working hard and seeing where we go.”
Whyte scored with his first touch in international football when he came on against Israel in September, and made his first start for Northern Ireland in Thursday’s goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
“It was unbelievable (to start). A very proud moment for me and my family in a big game,” he added. “When I got the nod the other day I was over the moon. It was a game I was looking forward to for months.”
The night might have been even better for Whyte, who was through on goal in the early going but was quickly closed down by Republic goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
“I took a touch and the keeper came out fast,” Whyte said. “To be fair, I think it was a good save rather than a bad miss.”
Whyte was also close to scoring in his second Northern Ireland appearance, hitting a post against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo last month, and seems to have quickly adapted to international football.
“I feel great, confident and I know this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’m here now, the hard work doesn’t stop, (I’ll) keep going and keep going.”
Among those to have helped Whyte settle in are Liam Boyce and Stuart Dallas, who like Whyte cut their teeth playing club football in north Belfast – Boyce with Cliftonville and Dallas with Crusaders.
“We’ve all played in the Irish League, we’ve a lot in common with each other,” Whyte said. “That’s why I love playing with Liam and Stuart. Stuart is a great player with running power.
“Boycie holds the ball up for me and Stuart so it’s good to play with him as well. I think us three have a lot in common and you saw that out on the pitch.”
Whyte will now be hoping for another opportunity in Sunday’s Nations League clash against Austria, but whether he features or not, 2018 has already been a remarkable year.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “It’s happened really quick, you can’t look back and see where I am because it is all about moving forward and looking forward to the next game. Just keep working hard and that’s what I do.
“(International football) is obviously a lot harder, I just take everything in my stride. I am a confident player and I don’t really think about playing at the higher level, I just keep playing my game and doing what I do.”