SHANE Ferguson is hoping to be involved in two of the biggest days of his career this week.
Yet, while the Newcastle United left-sider appreciates the importance of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby, he is bemused about the furore surrounding his international call-up.
Ferguson is hoping to make his second appearance for Northern Ireland tomorrow, three years after his first.
The gap since his debut against Italy fuelled conspiracy theories. Then-manager Nigel Worthington implied Ferguson’s alleged failure to take his calls was because he was hoping to switch allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish players can play for either side provided they have not represented the other competitively.
Ferguson’s debut came in a friendly against Italy.
Tomorrow’s Windsor Park game versus Norway is also a friendly, and will not tie him to the country of his birth.
However, the 20-year-old has pledged his allegiance to them.
He said: “It was a big issue. It was massive, I am not sure why! Reading the papers and some of the stuff said – it was mad.
“I just want to put that to bed now and show everyone I am committed.
“It is a great honour to be selected for the squad and I just cannot wait to be involved. I hope I will be able to play my part.
“Maybe there were some things he (Worthington) did not like about me. There is nothing I could do about it.
“Everyone knows me, I am a quiet person too – a lot of the things said in the papers, they were not true. I am just looking forward to putting all of that behind me and just showing I want to play for Northern Ireland.
“I don’t want to switch – my future is with Northern Ireland.”
The Norway game is the first since Worthington was replaced as manager by former Newcastle striker Michael O’Neill.
It represents a fresh start for those not involved under the previous regime.
Ferguson added: “There are a lot of youngsters around the squad. I think O’Neill will do a great job and he seems like a nice person.
“I have spoken to him a few times on the phone and everything is going really well so far.
“I really want to be part of it – it is a great honour to represent your country and I would just like to play for them for as long as possible.
“I would love to come on and show the Northern Ireland fans what I can do.” After an injury-hit season, Ferguson is back in Newcastle’s first-team squad. Although a maiden derby start seems unlikely, his presence on the bench against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday has raised hopes of a first appearance.
Having been at Newcastle since he was 15, Ferguson knows what to expect.
He said: “There is such a buzz about this game. Since I was a youngster it has always been highlighted.
“I never knew what it was about until I was 15 and I love it too. The atmosphere walking to the ground is amazing. I just cannot wait for it.
“From the fans the message you get is ‘Just finish above Sunderland!’ or ‘just beat them!’ It is great, you cannot beat it!”
Having made an impact late last season, Ferguson is ready to do the same again 12 months on.
He added: “I feel like I am back in and around the squad again because at the start of the year the injury was just killing me.
“The team was doing that well it was hard to get back in.”