Rising Ballinamallard United star Jamal Tavares made his first appearance for the Northern Ireland U18 Schoolboys, describing the experience of representing his country as a “great honour.”

Jamal was on show at right-back for the full 90 minutes in the 2-0 win against Australia U18 Schoolboys at Midgley Park, Belfast on Monday January 20.

The Enniskillen Royal Grammar School student had previously appeared eight times for the U16 squad, but this was his debut cap for the U18 side.

Jamal, who has been a regular in the Ballinamallard United Reserves side that sit top of the NIFL Development League this season, described the buzz he felt whilst walking out on the pitch for his country.

“It’s always a great honour playing for my country. It’s something that I’ve dreamt of since my childhood and it’s always proud moments for both me and my family.

“Every time I’ve played for my country it’s been the same excitement going into the game, but as soon as the match begins everything is forgotten and the nerves begin to settle.”

And Jamal has already targeted more appearances for the U18s side, setting his sights on Northern Ireland’s upcoming games against Jersey at the start of February.

“Getting into the squad for the trip to Jersey will be a real good achievement, but I want to be become one of the first names on the team sheet and make it to the senior national squad in a few years.”

Although he was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, the young defender moved over to Enniskillen when he was two, going on to join Ballinamallard United Football Club at the age of six.

Years of determination and hard work has followed for the now 16-year-old, and Jamal believes that he wouldn’t be anywhere near where he is today without the help of the club.

“They’ve been huge for me and my career. I didn’t play any sport at all before I joined them and they got me into football from a young age.

“Huge credit must go to Enniskillen Athletic as well though as when I joined them at the age of 12 they gave me the freedom to play wherever I wanted. I came back to Ballinamallard two years later and they’ve really helped develop me and get me to where I am today.”

As well as both Ballinamallard and Enniskillen Athletic, Jamal was quick to heap praise on the other influences in his footballing career, saying:

“There’s been many people in the local community that have helped over the years.

“My uncle Paul always got me to football on Saturdays, as well as my Grandad, and they’ve both been huge influences on me.”

The avid Manchester United fan also likened himself to a rather well-known Liverpool right back.

“In football I’d like to become someone like Trent Alexander-Arnold, he’s a player I’ve looked up to for the past while because of what he has managed to achieve in the game.”

Jamal has also been in fine form for Ballinamallard United Reserves this season and believes that they’re in with a good chance of holding out for the title.

“We were unfortunate to miss out on the title last season; it was a really disappointing feeling but we’ve started a lot better this year and hopefully we’ll be able to do enough to win the title.”