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Former Republic defender Alex Bruce looking to win over Northern Ireland supporters

Updated: Monday, 04 Feb 2013 21:07 | Comments

Alex Bruce is hoping his second international career will lead to competitive action
Alex Bruce is hoping his second international career will lead to competitive action

Alex Bruce shrugged off his Republic of Ireland past as he prepared for his first involvement with Northern Ireland in Wednesday's friendly against Malta.

The 28-year-old, who qualifies for both countries through his grandmother, initially opted to play for the Republic but was only capped in friendlies, meaning he was not tied to the country.

Former Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington first approached the defender in 2011 and he was called up by new boss Michael O'Neill for the last two World Cup qualifiers but was forced to pull out through injury.

Now Bruce is finally in line to win a first cap and, although he knows not all Northern Ireland fans will be happy about his presence, it is not something he will let bother him.

Bruce plays under his father, former Manchester United defender Steve, at Hull and is well used to taunts from the terraces.

He said: "I'm not naive enough to say I'm not aware of it but for me what's in the past is in the past and I'm just looking forward to the future.

"I've declared myself for Northern Ireland, Michael's given me a fantastic opportunity to play international football. Being a footballer's a short career so I'm going to make the most of the opportunity and hopefully do as well as I can.

"My granny's from Bangor so I always knew, when I hadn't played a competitive game (for the Republic) that I was still available, and when that phone call came I had a long think about it.

"Unfortunately for Nigel he lost his job but Michael's come in and taken the bull by the horns and cracked on with the talks we've had. I made a decision and I'm just looking forward to playing for Northern Ireland.

"I've had pressure all my life. Obviously the situation at Hull, where my dad's the manager, has been a bit of a pressure cooker as well so I've had a few things like that to deal with over the years and pressure's something I don't really think too much about.

"It's water off a duck's back. I think any footballer will tell you that when you walk over that white line, what people do on the terraces, you're quite oblivious to it."

Bruce tweaked his ankle in training today but is confident he will be fit if called upon at Ta'qali National Stadium on Wednesday after the disappointment of missing out on his first two call-ups.

"They're the only two injuries I've had this season so it's been unfortunate," he said. "I felt as if I let Michael down a little bit in that respect but obviously I'm looking forward to being involved in the game and for the games in the future."

"I've declared myself for Northern Ireland, Michael's given me a fantastic opportunity to play international football." - Bruce

Wednesday's match will be O'Neill's eighth in charge, and the former Shamrock Rovers boss is still looking for his first win after three defeats and four draws.

The high point was a 1-1 draw in Portugal in October's World Cup qualifier, but O'Neill's side have also had to settle for a point from home matches against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

Long-serving defender Aaron Hughes acknowledges Northern Ireland must do better when the onus is on them but has been encouraged by the progress made under O'Neill.

The Fulham centre-back said: "We're still building on a lot of things.

"With Michael coming in and the way he wants us to play, I think the lads have actually taken that on pretty quick because there is a lot of attention to detail and there's not a lot of time to work on it.

"We got our rewards in the game against Portugal, that was all down to the shape and the discipline and hard work. We don't go there expecting to have 45-50% possession, we know we could come away with 20% possession, but we've come away with a point.

"Then you flip that in the game when we came home. It's still difficult to break teams down. The last game we played (against Azerbaijan), we literally threw everything at them and it was just one of those games where it wouldn't go in.

"We could go through this campaign and have a good go at it, maybe come up a little short, but I think, for the future, if we can keep this group together as much as we can, I think we could get back up there really pushing for qualification again."

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