Sean St Ledger's whirlwind start to his international career will move up another notch if he is pitched into battle with world champions Italy on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old Middlesbrough defender has started the Republic of Ireland's last five games and is in line to continue at Croke Park as Giovanni Trapattoni's men attempt to snatch top spot in Group 8 from the current World Cup holders.
He said: "Only a few months back I wasn't in the squad at all and now I have got five caps. It's been really, really quick, coming from Peterborough and then Preston, it has been a whirlwind experience. But it's something I am really looking forward to."
He added: "When I was at Peterborough, it was really, really small and now I am playing on one of the largest stages you possibly can. It's like a dream come true."
The contrast between Birmingham-born St Ledger's early days as a professional footballer and the company he is currently keeping could hardly be more stark, with Marcello Lippi's aristocrats heading for Dublin knowing a point on the night will be enough for them to clinch the one automatic qualification berth available.
However, the Republic are equally aware victory over Italy, who are currently four points clear, would send them into Wednesday's clash with Montenegro still in with a chance of overhauling the leaders, who face Cyprus at home on the same night.
St Ledger was not in the squad for the 1-1 draw between the sides in Bari on April 1 but he is relishing the chance to test himself against one of the biggest teams in European, and indeed world, football.
He said: "I would imagine that, when the fixtures came out, this would be the game everyone was looking at and, from a footballer's point of view, it is probably the same.
"You have to take each game one step at a time but, now the game is here, it is massive.
"I wasn't in the squad to go to Italy, which was obviously disappointing at the time, but it is going to be strange walking out with the likes of (Gennaro) Gattuso and people like that."
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