Ireland’s victory over Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday will live long in the memory of midfielder Josh Cullen.
The Charlton Athletic man was handed his first Irish start by Mick McCarthy and played the full 90 minutes, winning the man-of-the-match award as the Boys in Green ran out 3-1 winners.
Playing alongside Alan Browne in the midfield, Cullen looked comfortable in possession and strong in the tackle, constantly looking to get on the ball and affect the play.
From the off, it was clear that the step up to international level wouldn’t be an issue for the 23-year-old but Cullen admitted after the game that despite showing no signs of nerves on the pitch, he was certainly feeling them before kick-off.
“Yeah I was nervous for sure,” Cullen told Pundit Arena.
“I’m the kind of player who gets nervous before every game but more so today with it being my international debut. I was nervous and excited, I had butterflies too.
“There was a lot of feelings but the overriding feeling was just looking forward to getting out and playing and I was delighted to do that.”
Cullen was one of a handful of players on Tuesday night who did their chances of featuring in Ireland’s three remaining Euro 2020 qualifiers the world of good with his composed and mature display in the middle of the park.
The midfielder was lively and amongst the action from the very start and he explained that getting on the ball and making smart passes early are a staple of his normal game – which McCarthy encouraged him to play.
“The gaffer just said to play my normal game, to express myself and enjoy the game.
“I’m someone who likes to get on the ball a lot, in every game I play in so to get some early touches and complete some early passes is what I love to do so yeah I just played my normal game.”
Throughout the game, Cullen operated all over the midfield and although the level of opposition was poor, he showed that he could be a strong option in the holding role – a position Ireland are currently light on.
Cullen though, isn’t getting too far ahead of himself when quizzed on potentially being a successor to Glenn Whelan, although he outlined that if called upon in the position he feels he can “deliver a performance.”
“Yeah, Whelo (Glenn Whelan) has done brilliant to play as many games as he has for the team and the country is fantastic and he’s been brilliant in this campaign so far.
“It’s been great to be around him and to learn from him and watch him and see in training how he goes about his stuff. I’m fully supportive of all the lads they’ve been fantastic but if I do get called upon I’m confident I can deliver a performance.”
The 23-year-old will no doubt have been buoyed by his tremendous start to life in the Championship with Charlton Athletic, with Cullen a vital part of an Addicks side sitting second in the table.
Playing the best football of his career at club level, Cullen feels like his first international cap has come at the perfect time for him.
“To get my debut was fantastic and it’s come at a great time for me. I’m playing regularly at Charlton and we’re playing really well as a team. It was a great time for it to come and I really enjoyed it.”