Sheffield Wednesday: Caolan learns from Europe duty

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Caolan Lavery lines up for Northern Ireland Under 21s in a European Championship qualifier tonight - but that is not the limit of his ambitions.

He is dreaming of the day when he becomes a full international.

The Owls striker is already learning from playing against some of the best young players from around the world.

He has forced himself into the plans of Under 21 boss and former Wednesday midfielder Jim Magilton.

At Hillsborough, Stuart Gray preferred him to Benik Afobe and Atdhe Nuhiu as a starter against Middlesbrough - his first start in the Championship since his full debut in the 1-1 draw at Burnley in January. The Turf Moor game came a week after he went on as a sub and scored two in the 6-0 demolition of Leeds.

He also played in the 2-1 FA Cup win at Rochdale.

The 21-year-old has been mostly on the bench in recent weeks but last Saturday saw his first full 90 minutes for the first team, and Gray praised his energy.

Now Lavery is eager to be involved with the Under 21s against Italy: “It should be a good match,” says the man who was born in Canada but has Irish parents.

“We played them away from home last time. We kept them to 0-0 until about the 82nd minute and then we collapsed and they beat us 2-0. We owe them one. We are at home so all the boys are looking forward to it and hopefully getting a positive result.

“Unfortunately we can’t qualify. We’ve had a terrible campaign.

“Our first qualifier was in May last year and a lot of boys had to pull out because of holidays and stuff like that. We started off the campaign quite poorly, losing 3-0 at Cyprus. That was a game we were looking to get three points from if we were going to qualify.

“We’ve had a tough group with Italy, Serbia and Macedonia. Macedonia are a very good side at Under 21 level. It’s been a tough group and we didn’t do ourselves any favours against Cyprus and Macedonia, where you expect to pick up points.”

But international football is giving him valuable experience: “It’s class. It shows you the talent that’s around the world. It gives you an idea of what you need to be like and what kind of players these guys are.

“You are learning every time you play against the best players from their countries. It’s always good to play against the best possible opposition.

“The focus is so high that you have to be switched on at all times, just like you are with first-team games. I’ve learned loads.”

He will also be looking to impress Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill: “I’d like to think I’m not too far away if I can keep putting in good performance for club and country. I don’t see why I can’t get that senior call-up.

“It would be great to get a call-up. It’s what you look forward to when you work through the ages. You want to play for the senior side. If I was to get a senior call-up, I would be delighted.”