Earlier this week, Jonny Williams' name was included among 23 players selected to represent Wales at the their first international tournament in 58 years as he was one of three Eagles to be selected by Chris Coleman for Euro 2016.
The 22-year-old has been a part of the Red Dragons' set-up for the best part of a decade now, despite being born and bred in Tunbridge Wells. However his Anglesey-born father gave him a chance to represent Wales at youth level, and quickly worked his way through the system to make his senior international bow aged just 19.
Now with 11 caps to his name, the Palace academy produce looks back on his international career so far:
“When I was about 15 years old the Welsh set-up were speaking to Crystal Palace about players that might be eligible to play for Wales at the time, myself included, Osian Roberts was involved in that and I was invited to an under-15s game at Newtown – a trial between players from North and South Wales and a few eligible English players that had travelled along.
“I came straight from school with my dad, I was buzzing; a five-hour drive, still in my school clothes and we got there and it was pouring down with rain, a boggy pitch and I was just thinking that this would be my one chance to put my name forward and show that I’m good enough to play for Wales. I was really excited, I ended up playing in central midfield with Emyr (Huws) in that game, our team did well, and after that I got called up for my first under-15s game against Slovakia – my first game in a Wales shirt – which is weird because we have them in the first game of the Euros!
“That Newtown game was the first step on my Wales career, thankfully I was able to get there safely and do well and thanks to my my Dad for taking me there, he’s very proud of me and he’s so supportive.
“Even though I was born in England, I feel Welsh, which is a very nice feeling; every time I pull on that Wales shirt I feel more and more Welsh and the Wales fans have taken me on board, welcoming me as one of their own, and I am now. I played over 40 games for Wales at youth level, I have 11 caps for the seniors and I’m blessed to have represented this great country so many times.
“I remember watching many Wales games with my Dad when I was younger, even when Chris Gunter was playing as a 16-year-old at full-back, I remember those games well. It is a bit weird playing alongside him now, to think I used to watch him at right-back and (Gareth) Bale at left-back.
“I loved watching (Jason) Koumas too, he was a great player and to watch (Craig) Bellamy too and play with him towards the end of his international career was fantastic because he was vastly experienced and just great to be around. It is a shame he isn’t still playing and that he won’t be representing Wales in this tournament to be honest, I’ve always said how much I loved playing with him and he could still do it, even at his age!
“Osian Roberts and Brian Flynn have both been massively important to me in my development. Osian took me as a 15-year-old, he believed in me as a 15-year-old, a 16-year-old; I was able to play on Sky in the Victory Shield, which was a great experience that really helped me – it is a blessing that he is now a part of the first team set-up because I know him well, as do a lot of the younger players!
“Flynny then took me on from Osian, straight into the under-21s – I’m the second-youngest under-21s debutant after ‘Rambo’ – so getting to play the U21s at that age and being able to push myself against the bigger players at that age really helped me and it was during that time I was promoted to the Crystal Palace first-team as well, so I have to thank Osian and Flynny massively for that.
“My first call-up for the Welsh senior team was out of the blue, I didn’t really expect it but to come on for Gareth Bale in that game and for the team to come from behind to win 2-1 was something you’d think was written in the stars. I was lucky enough to start the next game against Croatia, I played with Bale in that one when he got over his illness – it was a shame we didn’t get more from that game because we put up a really great fight, but those two games were really surreal and it all kicked on from there.
“The Bosnia home game in the last campaign was a big one for me, I think Emyr (Huws) got injured the day before so there was a bit of a shuffle around. I was supposed to be playing in the hole, but I moved back slightly. It was a massive game for me personally and the team as well, a must-not-lose game, because Bosnia were a threat at that stage and that result ensured a really strong start to the group. I picked up a knock in the opening quarter of an hour but the adrenaline and the pure buzz of the crowd carried me through most of the game.
“The likes of Emyr (Huws), Danny (Ward), Ben (Davies) and myself all came through the age groups together, there have been so many camps in all sorts of European countries with Osh and Flynny and it is a bit weird now to think that we’ve all made it through together – who’d have thought it? It is great though, really great to be surrounded by all of the boys you grew up with and came through the ranks with and it’s a bit surreal.
“Ben has gone on to do great things in the Premier League and hopefully the rest of us can follow in the future. We’re all very proud of each other, we all get on like we’re brothers and we spend a lot of time together on camps and keep in touch when we’re away from Wales too.
“It is hard to look beyond France at the moment, we have a real chance of doing something special out there – if we’re all fit and able to get our best players on the pitch then I think anything is possible for us in France.
“There’s a real togetherness within the squad, we’ve got a fantastic fan-base that will be following us all around France – our rankings have helped us with the draw for the next campaign, but we’ll look forward to that after doing well in France!”
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