New Northern Ireland call-up Cameron McGeehan will always remember special Michael O'Neill interaction
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McGeehan – who was astonishingly booked for his reaction to the tackle before being stretchered off – was only 21 at the time and his last international involvement was just under three years prior when he represented the under-21s in friendlies against Italy and Serbia.
That didn’t stop O’Neill from arranging to meet up with the talented midfielder alongside Andy Cousins and now at Belgium top-flight outfit Oostende, McGeehan is determined to pay the boss back for the faith shown in him after being called into the senior squad for a second time ahead of two Euro 2024 qualifiers versus San Marino and Finland this week.
"When I broke my leg, Michael came to meet me in a pub with my dad and Andy Cousins when I was at Luton,” he tells the News Letter. “I was on my crutches still and he was explaining how he saw me as a player.
"It was a great feeling at the time because I had just had the bad injury and it was great that he took the time out of his busy schedule for him and Andy to come and meet me. I've always felt like there was a support and they rated me as a player.
"I've kept in touch with Andy a bit and always had it in mind. He's (O’Neill) picked me and I'm very happy about that and hopefully I can go there and learn a lot from him and bring my game to the set-up.
"I was only 21 at the time. You never forget those things and when he got the job again it was a no-brainer."
McGeehan’s previous call-up in 2018 ended in less than ideal circumstances as he was forced to withdraw due to an ankle injury and has had to wait almost five years to get the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage again.
The 27-year-old celebrated his inclusion by scoring in Saturday’s league fixture against Westerlo – his second goal in three matches following a strike against Belgian powerhouses Club Brugge earlier this month – and he feels more than ready to take the opportunity if it’s presented to him over the next week.
"I spoke to Michael the week before (my call-up) and he was seeing what I was thinking,” he said. “I also spoke to Andy Cousins - I've always kept in touch with those guys and when I saw Michael got the job I thought maybe there would be a chance I could get back involved.
"Andy got in contact and I thought it was good timing and then Michael reached out to me as well. I got the letter through on the Monday so it was really nice.
"I had the call-up a few years ago and I got an injury. For whatever reason I had lost touch with it a little bit and as I've grown up, came abroad and experienced a different culture and style of living, international football is something that's really appealing.
"I played for Northern Ireland when I was younger so it's in my blood. I wasn't actively thinking about it but when I saw Michael get the job then I was thinking there could be a chance here. It's a real privilege.
"It was an honour before with Michael giving me the call-up back then but for whatever reason I wasn't ready for it. I was growing as a player and as a man and now feel much more ready to take the chance and get involved.
"It's the start of a new campaign so it's a good feeling to be involved with that and there's a bit of a younger group with some injuries to top players. I'm looking forward to the new experience, helping the team and playing with some top players."
His call-up is just the latest event in what has been a special year for McGeehan. He got married last summer and announced just a few weeks ago that he’s expecting a first child with wife Tiffany, who many will recognise from starring on E4 reality show, Made in Chelsea.
Having spent seasons floating around the Championship, League One and League Two with the likes of Luton, Barnsley, Scunthorpe United and Portsmouth, the move to Belgium has given McGeehan a chance to develop as a player – and man – in a different environment.
"It has all tied in well,” he said of his recent personal and professional landmarks. “It feels like I'm getting to that age where you develop more and start to become a man.
"These things are all happening at the same time so it's nice. I've had a tough time before with a couple of injuries but now I'm back fit, playing, doing well and I'm going to be a dad which is the best thing that can happen.
"I got married in the summer too and now I've got the Northern Ireland call-up - it all feels really good and I'm really blessed.
“I'm going there hoping to be involved more and that's what I'm looking to do. Nothing is guaranteed - you have to go and show yourself in training and perform.
"I know it's my first call-up so I'm not expecting to go in and start straight away but I'll be doing everything to show who I am and show that I give a different option. Hopefully that works out for me."