By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Magpies youngster Shane Ferguson has pledged his international future to Northern Ireland - and insists his heart has always been with the Green and White Army.
On Tuesday, the Derry-born left-footer played in a 2-0 defeat to Serbia under-21s in Coleraine, despite recent speculation that he could change his allegiance to the Republic.
It was his seventh appearance for his country's under-21 side, while he has also represented the Ulstermen at under-19 level, but when he was not included in the senior squad to face Estonia for a Euro 2012 qualifier last month, talk of him chosing to represent Giovanni Trapattoni's Irish side intensified.
However, speaking to nufc.co.uk following his return to Tyneside, the 20-year-old has moved to reaffirm his commitment to Northern Ireland.
"A lot of stuff was said in the past with people thinking I was going to switch to the Republic of Ireland and in the summer I had a couple of options," he revealed. "I just wanted to take my time and think what I wanted to do, and a lot of people jumped the gun when I wasn't in one of the squads.
"But my heart is with Northern Ireland and always has been. I've represented them since I was a kid and I want to play for them for as long as I can. I played for the under-21s the other day. and I was happy to do that.
"It definitely wasn't a decision I wanted to rush into but a lot of people probably didn't see it that way. But I've shown everyone I want to play for Northern Ireland and that's not going to change.
"I've got family from the south but I just thought it was a good decision for me to stay with the country where I was born and raised."
Ferguson's willingness to link up with the under-21s was proof that the Magpies man has nailed his colours to the mast, and he said: "We lost 2-0 but we had a youngish team out. It was disappointing at the same time because you never want to lose matches, but it was good to see all the lads again."
A number of Northern Irish-born players. including Manchester United's Darron Gibson and Everton's Shane Duffy, have chosen to play for the Republic after winning caps at underage level for the north.
In Ferguson's case, he already has one full cap, which came against Italy in June 2009, but as it came in a friendly, he would still have been able to switch.
But he is keen to win more caps for Northern Ireland - whose manager, Nigel Worthington, stepped down following their failure to qualify for the European Championships - over the next few months.
"That's what I want," he said. "Whenever the new manager comes in, I'll just try to impress him as much as I can whenever he sees me play for my club at Newcastle.
"I'll have to keep working hard and just see what happens now."