Bristol Rovers' Michael Smith aims for international team
By The Bristol Post | Wednesday, June 06, 2012, 05:00
Bristol Rovers defender Michael Smith is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow countryman Gareth McAuley by eventually going on to represent Northern Ireland at international level.
Bristol Rovers defender Michael Smith
Smith, 23, enjoyed a successful debut campaign as a professional after arriving at the Memorial Stadium from Irish part-timers Ballymena last summer.
It is a similar path to the one trodden by West Bromwich Albion's McAuley, 32, who started his career in the Northern Irish League before spells at Lincoln, Leicester and Ipswich before finally securing a place in the top-flight with a move to the Hawthorns last summer.
"That's the sort of thing that I want to be doing," Smith said. "Gareth is a role model for me. He played Irish League, went over to England and now is part of the Northern Ireland setup. It shows me that, sometimes, if you put the work in you will get the rewards.
"Everyone always says it, but if you work hard, you are going to get better and, if you get better, chances are you will play at a higher level."
McAuley made his debut for Northern Ireland 12 months after arriving at Sincil Bank and has gone on to represent the country on 34 further occasions, and Smith added: "I would love to play for my country. It would be a dream come true.
"I've only just completed my first season as a professional, but, once I've settled in a bit more, maybe with a few more years under my belt, we will see what happens."
The full-back come right-sided midfielder showed plenty of promise in his 22 appearances last season to force himself firmly into manager Mark McGhee's plans for what everybody at the Memorial Stadium is hoping will be a promotion-challenging season when the new campaign comes around.
"I didn't play for a while when Paul Buckle was at the club, but since the new manager has come in, I have been involved a lot," Smith said.
"He definitely wants me involved next season, so it's all good news. Everyone gives the boss a lot of respect because he has played and managed at a very high level but, as well as that, he is a great coach on the field and he has great man management skills.
"He has made me feel really comfortable since he has come in and that's the main reason why I enjoyed the second half of the season a lot more.
"Since I made the move, my defending has got a lot better and so has my decision-making when I'm on the ball.
"Training every day also helps, but I think the main difference (between part-time and professional football) is probably the fitness and the sharpness of the players."
Rovers have a added another game to their pre-season schedule, with a trip to Weston-super-Mare on Saturday, July 21.