Luton striker James Collins conceded he thought his chances of an international call-up up for the Ireland senior squad had passed him by.
The 28-year-old, who has played for the U19s and U21s earlier in his career, felt that spending the majority of his time in the lower reaches of the Football League might count against him.
Fortunately for me, this year we’ve managed to do really well as a team and be high flying in League One.James Collins
That all changed when he was named in Mick McCarthy’s squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers later this month, but when asked if he thought his opportunity had gone, Collins said: “Yes, definitely.
“I think you’ve got to be a realist and I did always believe that you had to be at a certain level with your club to get into the Irish squad.
“Obviously playing a large part of my career in League Two, I’d always thought I’d have to reach a high level to have a chance.
“Fortunately for me, this year we’ve managed to do really well as a team and be high flying in League One.
“I’m really lucky to be involved in the side and get my call-up, it’s great and fair play to the gaffer for looking at the lower levels as there is some great talent in these leagues.”
When describing how learned of his maiden call-up, Collins said: “We were training, I didn’t hear anything before and then a few of the lads went in as they’d finished their training.
“Sheez (Alan Sheehan) came out, ran over to me and had seen on his phone, he came over and gave me a hug, said ‘well done, you’re in.’
“Mick (Harford) came over and gave me a hug and said I deserve it, congratulations and good luck. To get that off someone like Mick is special because I’ve got a lot of respect for him, a lot of time for him, and he’s been brilliant for me ever since I’ve walked through the door at Luton.
“It’s a massive honour for me, such a proud day for me and my family, it’s everything I’ve worked for in my career.
“I’m just delighted the news has come through that I’ve managed to get myself in the squad.”
Collins was well aware that the Irish hierarchy had been paying an interest in him after a prolific season which saw him reach 20 goals recently.
He said: “I knew they had been to watch me a couple of times, Terry Connor and Robbie Keane previously as well and I’ve managed to score every time they’ve been there.
“So I had a good feeling, but you don’t want to try and jinx these things, I’m just delighted that I’m in.
“It’s definitely the pinnacle of my career so far, I know it’s only a preliminary squad, but if I can manage to get myself in the final squad that goes away, definitely will be the biggest day of my career.”
With the likes of David McGoldrick, (Sheffield United) and Shane Long (Southampton), to name just two of the eight forwards selected, Collins is well aware he faces a real fight to make his senior debut.
He said: “Of course, it’s the Irish senior squad, there’s going to be some phenomenal talent in there, and they’re all playing at a quality level.
“I’ve just got to go in, work hard and hopefully that’s good enough.”
He won’t be stepping into the unknown though, as Collins played with the likes of Brighton defender Shane Duffy when he was in the Irish U21s set-up.
Collins continued: “I played with a lot of them in the 21s, probably 10 or 11 of them, I know a few.
“It’s always nice to go into a squad with familiar faces and hopefully I can show them the form that I’ve been in this year.
“I’ve scored a few for the 19s and a hat-trick for the 21s, so I have scored goals for Ireland before.
“Hopefully I get the chance in the senior squad and I can manage to stick a couple away there too.”