West Brom boss Slaven Bilic has insisted Dara O’Shea deserves his “fairytale” rise after being handed his senior international debut.
The 21-year-old defender, who has been ever-present for the promoted Baggies in the Premier League this season, won his first cap for the Republic of Ireland in Wednesday night’s 1-0 Nations League defeat in Finland.
That honour sealed a remarkable few years for O’Shea, who was playing for Hereford in the seventh tier of English football just three seasons ago.
Bilic, whose side face Burnley on Monday night with both still looking for a first top-flight win of the campaign, said: “It’s great for him. I have congratulated him, he is very proud.
“Every player is proud to represent their country — there is nothing better than that — but there are some countries that make your family even more proud, and Ireland is one of those countries. It means more than football, more than representing your country.
“I am extremely happy for him, he is a brilliant kid, and it will help. It will help his motivation, his confidence that he has that cap for his country. Brilliant.”
O’Shea’s big night in Helsinki capped a productive period in his fledging career, and his diligence has not gone unnoticed by Bilic, who has used him in 26 of he club’s last 33 games.
Bilic said: “We had noticed that last season when I came here. Straight away, you saw the guy... at the start of pre-season, it’s not that everybody is crazy focused straight away — they are, but you can also hear laughter and all that.
“I was the new manager, I came here and then you start and after two seconds, you hear ‘How many touches?’, ‘How many that?’ — Dara never asked that, he knew. He listens to everything and that’s a big part of his improvement.
“He listens he thinks about his game. He is like a sponge. He listens to you and tries to improve his game, and that’s why his improvement has been really unbelievable.
“If you consider where he was last season at this time and where he is now, it’s like a fairytale. But he deserves it all.
“The main thing is is quality, but apart from the quality, it’s also his determination and his focus.”