HAVING made his debut against Malta back in November, Mark Sykes hopes to push on and become a regular fixture on the pitch for Stephen Kenny's team.

The Ormeau Road man became the first from Belfast in 76 years to represent the Republic of Ireland and he is hoping to get minutes during tonight's friendly against Latvia in Dublin (7.45pm) before the start of the European Championship Qualifiers against France on Monday (also 7.45pm).

Sykes declared for the Boys in Green back in 2020 but had to bide his time to get into the squad, but performances at club level for Bristol City have caught the eye of Kenny and getting to make his debut confirmed his status as an Irish international which was a proud moment for the South Belfast native.

"It was a dream come true for me to be able to represent Ireland," he said.

"To come on the pitch and I know it was only for a few minutes in not the biggest game in the world felt unbelievable.

"It's more to do with the family side of things and people from the area wishing me well. I went back and my local primary school has a homecoming for me and that makes me feel so good to be able to do something for the people back home, being the first from Belfast in a long time to do such a thing. I'm well pleased but hopefully more to come."

Sykes represented the North at U21 level so the decision to declare for the Republic of Ireland was viewed as controversial in some quarters.

However, the player is quick to point out that the only difficult decision was whether he would get on the pitch and that was all down to what he was performing for Bristol City.

"There shouldn't be any backlash," he insists.

"I've mentioned many a time, it's an Irish person playing for Ireland so I don't see any problem.

"I made the decision knowing full well what would happen. I knew it would be a difficult decision but thankfully now with my club form I've got my foot in the door.

"I want to play minutes, whether a friendly or a qualifier. The most important thing is getting back on the pitch and building up as many caps as possible."

Ireland have been handed a difficult task in qualifying for the 2024 Euros as they have been draw in Group B alongside Netherlands, Greece, Gibraltar and the aforementioned French whom they host in Dublin on Monday.

Taking on a side that reached the World Cup final in December is perhaps as hard as it gets but Sykes is hopeful they can rise to the occasion on home soil.

"It's going to be difficult," he accepts.

"I'm just off the back of a Man City game with my club, Bristol City, so I know how difficult those games can be, but we're ready for it. We'll work sat it this week and hopefully put a good performance in."