By Dominic Scurr
Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot has described the next few months as "one of the most important of my career" as he battles for Barclays Premier League survival and a starting-place at Euro 2016.
Following Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby draw with Sunderland, Elliot jetted off to join his Republic of Ireland team mates ahead of their friendly clashes against Switzerland and Slovakia during the international break.
And the Magpies' stopper believes the prospect of representing his county in France this summer has given him that extra motivation to perform for his club.
"They go hand in hand," Elliot told nufc.co.uk.
"If I play well for Newcastle then I get opportunities for Ireland so there's no real balancing act to contend with. If anything it gives me that extra incentive to perform for Newcastle.
"My main priority at the moment is to be doing as much as I can to help us stay in the Premier League.
"I love playing here and I couldn't imagine a club like this not being in the top-flight so we need to make sure all of our effort and concentration goes into surviving.
"It's still a huge honour to play for Ireland. I go away and enjoy myself with the Irish boys and gain more experience which I look to take into my performances at Newcastle.
"The Euros are massive (for Ireland) and for the fans. We're going there as underdogs which suits us because it means we can go there and play without pressure and hopefully do the country proud."
He added: "With (Euro 2016) and the league to contend with, the next few months is probably one of the most important of my career.
"I just need make sure I'm as focused and prepared as possible to make sure the season ends on a high and doesn't end up going to waste."