Jonny Evans hopes he can be a positive role model for young emerging stars in Northern Ireland, just as David Healy and Aaron Hughes were 16 years ago.
Evans was just 18 when he made his senior international debut in a memorable 3-2 win over Spain at Windsor Park.
He hadn’t even played for Manchester United when Lawrie Sanchez signed him for the Euro qualifiers in September 2006.
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The 34-year-old remembers those early days and rooming with two of the country’s most legendary players.
And Evans believes the influence of Healy and Hughes helped shape his early career in international football.
“When I first came to the team, we were sharing rooms at the time,” Evans said.
“I was directly with David Healy, and my second trip was with Aaron Hughes in Denmark.
“They are two absolute legends, and I have continued to play with them many times in the future.
“It was a really exciting time and I learned a lot from them. I admired them and I still respect them now, and I respect them as people. They were a fantastic help in settling me in.
“I remember after my first or second training session, David Healy came up to me and said ‘you’ll start the next game’. He made me feel welcome, and I hope that I will be able to have the same impact with some of the young guys who are coming now.”
Evans was one of four changes made by Sanchez for the game against Spain after a dismal home loss to Iceland.
It would mark the start of a stellar career in Northern Ireland which is set to reach 94 caps tonight in Luxembourg.
And Evans believes a number of Ian Baraclough’s current young talents are ready to make their mark on the international stage.
“When I think back to that time, I don’t think I went back down to the Under-21s,” he said.
“Players like Ali McCann have done the same thing and done really well. He took his chance and that’s what we want to see. We want to see more guys come in and work their way into the competition.
“Things can change very quickly in international football, as they have with me. And it’s about seizing your opportunity.
“We want to see that with these young guys. When they arrive we always want to cheer them on, and even in training I’ve already been very impressed with some of the young guys.”
Evans was a late call-up to the Northern Ireland squad after returning from a hamstring injury.
He is set to start against Luxembourg tonight after being cleared by Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers to join Baraclough’s side.
Evans admits he thought about reaching 100 caps for his country, and he is delighted to return to play after spending more than three months away.
He added: “You think about it, I’m not going to lie. There’s always that little bit.
“Obviously I thought I would miss those games which was disgusting so the fact that I could walk out and have one… luckily the manager was flexible with me coming in late and being part of it.”
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