Paul Smyth is enjoying his spell in Lancashire and feels his Stanley performances have played a vital part in being called-up to the Northern Ireland squad this week.
The young striker, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, celebrated his call up with an electric performance against Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night, winning two penalties and scoring the Reds’ third goal in a 3-1 win.
Northern Ireland host Estonia and Belarus in the first of their Euro 2020 qualifiers over the next fortnight, which could see the 21-year-old feature for his country for the fourth time having taking part in friendlies against South Korea, Panama and Costa Rica.
“It’s always nice to get a call up to the international team,” said Smyth. “I just can’t wait to get started really, get back in with the boys and enjoy myself.
“I’ve played well and I’m doing what I have to do for Stanley, scoring goals and getting assists, and I think that’s why I’ve had the chance and been called up.
“Any international team you play for, whether it’s Under 18s, 21s or the first team, the training is going to be basically the same, but with the older and more experienced players it’s always nice to go away with the first team.
“You get to play with the experienced boys, some of them with Premier League experience or playing for top Championship teams.”
Smyth has settled in well to life at Stanley, winning plaudits from fans and pundits for his performances so far, including the live televised game against Sunderland on Sky Sports.
“Against Sunderland I just went out and played the way I usually play, with no pressure and no fear, and I just went out and enjoyed myself. The Stadium of Light is a great place to play too,” said Smyth.
“Being here is different, very different to QPR but it’s definitely a ‘good different’! It reminds me a bit of my old club Linfield because you’re together as one, as a team, collectively. The boys welcome you with open arms and that makes it easier for you to settle in.
“The way we play here too, we play lovely football, and that’s how I want to play. People have seen the kind of things that we can do against the likes of Sunderland and Oxford. They were good performances and hopefully we can go out and do that again.”
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has also been impressed with Smyth’s desire since moving to the Wham Stadium at the end of January, singling him out during the squad announcement, and the striker is looking forward to working with him.
Smyth said: “They were good words and it’s always nice to hear that. It makes you want to push on and get that starting place. Fingers crossed I can go on and do my bit.
“Michael O’Neill is a very nice fella. He’s always looking to help you which is always good, and he looks after the younger lads too. He’s not afraid to put young players in his team.
“I got my chance against South Korea and scored, which is always a bonus. He treats everyone with respect which is all you really want.”
The Euro 2020 qualifying campaign begins next week meaning Smyth and Stanley team-mate Dimitar Evtimov, who has been called up for Bulgaria, will miss the Reds trip to Burton Albion.
Smyth admits he’s frustrated at having to miss out during Stanley’s important run in as the League One season draws to a close, but says John Coleman’s side are not feeling the stress as they look to secure their place in English football’s third tier.
“You’re always disappointed when you miss any game,” said Smyth. “You want to play every single game up until the end of the season, but if international duty calls you’ve got to do it. There’s no point in saying no when it comes to playing for your country!
“You get a big chance to play in front of a big crowd at Windsor Park which is always nice too.
“There’s always pressure in football. Whether you’re top of the table, middle of the table or at the bottom, there’s pressure everywhere.
“It’s how you overcome the pressure and what you do on the day that counts, and hopefully we can show that.”