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International hopeful Shane ready to deliver on big stage

AT THE start of the season, Shane McEleney couldn't even get into the first-team squad at Derry City, the long-serving defender a casualty of the bizarre selection policies of then-manager Roddy Collins.

But as the curtain comes down on the 2014 with tomorrow's FAI Cup final at Lansdowne Road, McEleney could get the chance to impress a manager from a different sphere, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill expected to attend the final along with his counterpart and namesake from the Republic, Michael.

McEleney, like so many Derry boys, found his way into the international set-up with the Republic and graduated from the youth team to play in the same U21 side as Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady, back in 2010.

He then took up an offer to play for Northern Ireland and while the 23-year-old is not expecting an immediate summons from Michael O'Neill, McEleney at least knows that he is wanted and rated, which was not the case at his club just a few months ago.

"I played for the Republic's U18s, U19s and U21s but I wasn't picked for the last year of the U21s so I decided to go off with Northern Ireland," McEleney told The Herald ahead of tomorrow's Cup final where he and his bother, Patrick, hope to win a second Cup medal.

"I am still only 23 so things could happen for me. It's interesting that Northern Ireland are above the Republic in the rankings now, Michael O'Neill is a top manager. I have met him a few times when I was thinking of changing allegiance and he has impressed me.

"You never know, if I stay fit and have a good run of games I might have a chance. Realistically you have to be in England now to get a senior cap but who knows?".

McEleney is for now just pleased to be in the City side after some trauma earlier this season when former boss Collins axed him from the squad. "It was really hard for me at the start of the season, Roddy didn't even have me in the squad for eight-nine weeks and that was tough on me personally, that really knocked my confidence," he admits.

"I think the low point was being sent off to play with the reserves, along with Rory Patterson, on the day that the first team had a game. I had done well for Derry, won trophies and played in Europe and here I was, playing down in Bonagee in the reserve league. But you have to be professional, not let your own standards drop and I kept my head up.

"I don't know what it was with Roddy. I hadn't missed a game for two years, I had helped Derry win the First Division and the FAI Cup but all of a sudden the new manager had left me out. It did get to me but my confidence did come back.

"But when Pizza (Peter Hutton) took over from Roddy he made a lot of changes. Roddy had signed a lot of players - the wrong players in my book, apart from Aaron Barry, he was the only one who made an impact. And it's worked as we got to a Cup final and I think next season can be a big one for us," he added, hoping for a repeat of the 2012 final.

"We're underdogs for tomorrow but that was the case in 2012 as well and we did ok that day," says McEleney.

"We had the home dressing room in 2012 and that was a big psychological advantage for us. Players are superstitious and something like that can have an impact on the day.

"We know Pats are a great side, but anything can happen in a final and we will be ready on the day. We know their strengths and weaknesses. The big pitch will suit us, we get the ball down and play it and I think the fans will enjoy the game."