Conor Washington: The Northern Ireland striker made in Wales

By Michael PearlmanBBC Wales Sport
Conor Washington
Conor Washington scored his first Football League goal in 2014 at Northampton Town
International friendly: Wales v Northern Ireland
Date: Thursday, 24 March Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One Wales & S4C, BBC Two NI, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

He is the striker born and raised in England, eligible for Scotland and who has never even been to Northern Ireland.

But if QPR striker Conor Washington makes his international debut this week for Northern Ireland in the friendly against Wales after his shock call into Michael O'Neill's squad, it is likely his heart will always belong to Wales.

Washington's story is part Jamie Vardy, part Roy of the Rovers.

Just over four years ago he was delivering post around St Ives, Cambridgeshire, and is now a multi-million pound Championship striker, chasing the Premier League dream.

Wales has been central to the rise and rise of Washington, who qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through the grandparent rule. It seems appropriate that Cardiff is the destination where he could make his international bow.

Starting out

Washington, 23, is part of Newport County folklore, representing the club's past, present and future thanks to the deal that would see him depart Rodney Parade.

He might be the most important signing the club ever made.

Conor Washington
Conor Washington scores at Brighton for Newport County

Signed by Justin Edinburgh for about £5,000 in autumn 2012, Washington was the ideal gamble for a then-Conference club with Football League aspirations. He was cheap, he was willing and his goal record in the lower leagues was unbelievable.

He struggled initially, living away from home, playing a higher standard, training full-time and particularly when the goals dried up.

"I told my mum I wanted to come back," he said.

It was a far cry from the previous season, five divisions further down the pyramid, where Washington scored 53 goals in 50 games for St Ives in the United Counties League, Premier Division.

Despite Washington contributing just one goal, Newport were promoted to the Football League via a trip to Wembley and the promotion would make him, not break him.

Newport at Wembley
Newport County celebrate their return to the Football League after beating Wrexham at Wembley

Seven goals before Christmas in League Two saw Washington go from being Edinburgh's fourth choice striker to his main man.

It was no shock at all when Peterborough signed him for a fee in the region of £200,000 in the 2014 January transfer window.

His subsequent switch to QPR for an undisclosed fee and Newport's 20% sell-on clause makes him Newport's record sale by a distance.

His legacy at Rodney Parade is huge in terms of sheer pennies and pounds, worth close to seven figures for a club now owned by their supporters.

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His move to QPR was like a lottery win for the club formerly owned by lottery winner Les Scadding.

What's more, if Washington goes on to play in a competitive international match, Newport expect to gain a further unspecified cash windfall.

"If he gets a competitive game, I think there is some money coming our way, so fingers crossed," said Newport's Northern Irish manager Warren Feeney.

Climbing higher

Washington was signed by Darren Ferguson at Posh, who, along with Norwich, had turned him away as a youngster.

Initially he struggled - after 17 goals in 18 months, the jury was still out.

But from the beginning of this season, under boss Graham Westley, he started to thrive. "He brought me out of my shell," Washington said.

"Some of the things he said struck a massive chord with me and I got tougher."

Conor Washington
Conor Washington battling for new club QPR where he is yet to get off the mark

By Christmas, Washington had netted 15 goals in League One and a switch for about £3m to QPR and the bright lights of the Championship followed as he replaced Southampton-bound Charlie Austin.

Now international football and a major tournament appearance could be next.

Northern Ireland's aim

Washington knows he needs to take any chance to impress on the international stage, starting at Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday.

"I would love nothing better than to make the Euros, but there are a lot of quality strikers ahead of me at the minute so I have to be realistic," he said.

"The main thing now though is I've managed to get a call up into the squad so it's up to me to show the manager, players and the fans what I can do and that I deserve to be here.

"If I did manage to make it to France with Northern Ireland it would be a dream come true, as everyone wants to pit themselves against the best players in the world."

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