Mark O'Brien's delight at his selection for Irish U21
MARK O'Brien says he is "over the moon" to have forced his way back into the Republic of Ireland international set-up.
O'Brien received his first call-up to the Ireland Under-21 squad ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Holland in Tallaght.
The Dubliner represented his country at under-15, under-16 and under-17 level before undergoing heart surgery to fix a valve problem.
After recovering from the operation, he was capped once for the under-19s in October 2010 and, last year, was put on standby for the under-21s.
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Now the 20-year-old, who has also had to battle back from a serious knee injury, has been named in Noel King's main squad, in recognition of his recent performances for Derby County.
The defender became the latest of the Rams' Irish international contingent – after team-mates Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon were called up to the senior squad.
"It's great for the three lads to get called up to the senior squad and when I got told I was in the 21s, I was over the moon," said O'Brien, who has made 10 first-team appearances for Nigel Clough's side this season.
"The last time I represented Ireland was for the under-19s in a European Championship qualifier, when I came on as a sub in one game.
"Before that, I was captain of the under-15s and under-16s and was in the under-17s as well.
"I made quite a few appearances but they've dried up a bit since then.
"Hopefully, I can get back in there now and push on from here."
While Derby remains his priority, the international recognition is a source of pride for O'Brien.
"It's always great to represent your country," he said.
"Obviously, the club comes first and I want to do well for Derby – but it's nice to be recognised at international level.
"Holland should provide great opposition and it's definitely a game to look forward to. I can't wait.
"I know a fair amount of the Ireland squad, having grown up with a lot of them through the younger age groups.
"The majority of them play over here and it will be a good test to see who can get in the team and get a game."
O'Brien, who was named Republic of Ireland under-16 player of the year in 2009, is delighted for the Rams trio who are in Giovanni Trapattoni's senior squad – and hopes to follow in their footsteps one day.
"Jeff has been brilliant this season and it's nothing more than he deserves," said the centre-back.
"It's just good that we're getting the recognition. Conor and Richard have done well too and they deserve everything they're getting.
"It's great for the club and, obviously, for the players themselves.
"For me, it's one step at a time and I'm more than happy to get in the under-21 squad. But if at any stage in my career, a senior call-up came my way, that would be brilliant.
"At the moment, though, I'm concentrating more on the under-21s and Derby."